NEWTOWN, Conn. Worshippers hurriedly left a church Sunday when someone phoned in a threat as parishioners remembered 20 children and six adults who were massacred at an elementary school, but police later said nothing dangerous was found.
The threat interrupted a busy Mass and touched off a large police response days after the worst massacre of school-age children in U.S. history.
Halfway through the noon service at the St. Rose of Lima Church, the priest stopped and said, “Please, everybody leave. There is a threat,” said worshipper Anna Wood of Oxford, Conn.
At least a dozen police in camouflage SWAT gear and carrying guns soon arrived. An Associated Press photographer saw police leave carrying something in a red tarp. Guns drawn, they searched the church and adjacent buildings.
Deborah Metz, a Trumbull police officer on the scene, gave the all-clear after about an hour. Police said the church would be on lockdown for the rest of the day.
Brian Wallace, spokesman for the diocese, said someone called and “threatened to disrupt the mass.”
Gunman Adam Lanza, his mother and eight of the child victims attended St. Rose of Lima. It is a Roman Catholic Church with an adjacent school, which Lanza attended briefly.
The church hosted overflow crowds at all three morning Masses Sunday.
Wood said everyone left calmly but described a congregation on edge. One boy, about 9, left with his mother.
“He asked his mom, ‘Mom, why are we leaving?’,” Wood recalled. “The mom couldn’t answer. She just started crying.”
Nancy Elis lived in Newtown for 28 years before moving to nearby Southbury in 2006, but she was back Sunday to visit her former church.
With police searching the property, she said the scene looked like “a war zone.”
“This is the house of God,” she said, sobbing. “Why would they have to leave for fear for their lives? What’s become of our nation?”
Some of the deadliest school shootings in the U.S. (AP)
- Dec. 14, 2012: 20-year-old Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where he killed 20 children and six adults with a high-power rifle before taking his own life. The investigation revealed that Lanza had also killed his mother shortly before the shooting at the school.
- April 2, 2012: A gunman killed seven people in a rampage at a California Christian university. Jongjin Kim, the Oikos University, said the suspect, One Goh, was angry because administrators refused to grant him a full tuition refund after he dropped out of the nursing program.
- Feb. 27, 2012: Three students were killed and two wounded in a shooting spree that started in a school cafeteria in Chardon, Ohio, as students waited for buses to other schools. Police have charged T.J. Lane, who was 17 at the time, as an adult.
- Feb. 14, 2008: Former student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., fatally shooting five students and wounding 18 others before committing suicide.
- April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, 23, fatally shot 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then killed himself.
- Oct. 2, 2006: Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, shot to death five girls at West Nickel Mines Amish School in Pennsylvania, then killed himself.
- March 21, 2005: Jeffrey Weise, 16, shot and killed five schoolmates, a teacher and an unarmed guard at a high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota before taking his own life. Weise had earlier killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion.
- Oct. 28, 2002: Robert Flores Jr., 41, who was flunking out of the University of Arizona nursing school, shot and killed three of his professors before killing himself.
- March 5, 2001: Charles “Andy” Williams, 15, killed two fellow students and wounded 13 others at Santana High School in Santee, Calif.
- April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves in the school’s library.
- May 21, 1998: Two teenagers were killed and more than 20 people hurt when Kip Kinkel, 17, opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Ore., after killing his parents.
- March 24, 1998: Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, killed four girls and a teacher at a Jonesboro, Ark., middle school. Ten others were wounded in the shooting.
- Dec. 1, 1997: Three students were killed and five wounded at a high school in West Paducah, Ky. Michael Carneal, then 14, later pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder and is serving life in prison.
- Oct. 1, 1997: Luke Woodham, 16, of Pearl, Miss., fatally shot two students and wounded seven others after stabbing his mother to death. He was sentenced the following year to three life sentences.