A family with Ottawa roots now living in Newtown, Conn., where the second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history occurred at an elementary school, are thankful their eight-year-old daughter was spared.

Twenty children and six adults died at Sandy Hook Elementary School after a gunman burst into the building Friday and opened fire. Eight boys and 12 girls — all six or seven years old — as well as six school staff died.


Maleeha Ali says students in her Grade 3 class were told to lie down on the floor when the shooting began. (CBC)

Sabeena Ali got a robocall from a school board on Friday that there had been a shooting and the building was in lockdown, but the call didn't say which school. She assumed the call was about the high school where her eldest daughter was a student. She didn't think it would be at her eight-year-old daughter Maleeha's elementary school.

Maleeha Ali, a Grade 3 student, said she was just about to start her science class when the shooting began. "We heard shooting, screaming and crying, we thought the shooting was someone banging on a table," she said.

Children told to lie on floor

Maleeha and her classmates were told to lie flat on the ground and their teacher locked the classroom door. Eventually, police arrived and they were led to safety.

A neighbour of the Alis who worked at the school then called Sabeena to tell her that Maleeha was safe and that she would be driving her home.

"I'm completely numb, your whole body just gets numb," said Ali.


Sabeena Ali said she got a robocall about a school lockdown, but she assumed it was at a high school attended by her older daughter. (CBC)

The Ali family knows many of the families who lost children. Maleeha's favorite teacher, Vicki Soto, who taught her in Grade 1, was also killed in the shooting. There are reports Soto died shielding her students from the gunman.

Investigators have offered no motive for Friday's massacre. But they have confirmed the identity of the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, and verified that his mother, Nancy Lanza, was his first victim.

'It still is an ideal place to live'

"All the kids who lost their lives and you think one of your kids could have been one of them," said Sabeena Ali.

"All I can do is thank God for keeping us safe and everybody say a prayer for everyone who passed away. Hopefully we'll all heal," she said.

The Ali family moved from Kanata three years ago when Sabeena's husband, Iftikhar, got a position in nuclear cardiology at a local hospital. She said the family moved to Newtown in part because it had the same friendly feel as Ottawa.

"It's quiet, a great place to bring up kids, the schools are great … it still is an ideal place to live," she said.

Her family will be returning to Ottawa for the holidays, to visit Maleeha's grandparents.