NEWTON, Conn. (CNN) -- The children. Initial reports of a shooting inside a Newtown, Conn. elementary school Friday immediately sparked fears that children could be in harm's way.
Breaking news photos from outside Sandy Hook Elementary appeared to show school staffers leading children away from the school wearing no coats and dressed in brightly colored clothing. Temperatures hovered just above freezing.
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The children walked one behind another, with their hands resting on the shoulders of the student in front of them. Authorities evacuated children to a nearby firehouse.
Although school shootings have become sadly familiar in 21st century America, violence is not common in this picturesque 300-year-old town of about 27,000. A local TV station reported 600 children are enrolled at the school, spanning kindergarten through grade 4.
One girl named Alexa was reunited with her parents outside the school.
"I can't believe -- in a small town like this -- we've never had anything like this happen," her father told a local CNN affiliate WTNH. "I was pretty shaken up. I did not know who or what happened."
"It doesn't seem possible," said Alexa's mother. "You have something happen so close to home. ... I guess I'm still in shock."
Images from CNN affiliate News 12 New Jersey showed police officers armed with rifles following a dog into woods near the school.
Other officers, some in tactical gear, stood around the school with guns drawn, CNN affiliate WFSB reported.
All schools in the city were on lockdown Friday as police assessed the situation, state police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance said.
Mike Branchwell, who has lived in the area since 2005, told CNN the district's schools are "very highly rated," and are a big attraction for many of the people who move to the area, including his family, which includes two in high school.
Just a few weeks ago the town -- about 60 miles outside New York City -- was recovering from Hurricane Sandy, which downed trees and knocked out power to most customers. A year before, residents suffered through Hurricane Irene.