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Image: Mourners at a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

[Courtesy of nbcnews.com]

The gunman in the Newtown massacre had an “altercation” with four staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School the day before he killed 20 children, six adults and himself there, Connecticut and federal officials told NBC News Saturday.

Three of the four staff members were killed Friday in one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. The fourth staff member was not at school that day and is being interviewed by federal and state investigators, NBC News’ Pete Williams said.

Two days before that, Adam Lanza, 20, went to a sporting goods store in Danbury, Conn., and tried to purchase a rifle, but was rebuffed because the state has a waiting period for gun sales, the officials said.

Still, Lanza was heavily armed when he forced his way into the school Friday morning – after killing his mother at their home in Newtown.

The officials said he had four handguns on him as he stormed the 600-student school and shot his victims – clustered in two classrooms – at close range. There was a rifle found in the car he drove to Sandy Hook.

Previously, officials had said Lanza was armed with two pistols as he rampaged through the suburban school and that the weapons were legally purchased and registered to his mother, Nancy.

At a Saturday briefing, Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said officials were tracing every weapon connected to the shooter.

Authorities had finished the heart-wrenching task of identifying the dead and said they would soon release the names.

The bodies have been removed from the school and taken to the medical examiner’s office, but it could take at least two more days for investigators to finish combing over the crime scene.

“We’ve been doing everything we need to do to peel back the onion, layer by layer, and get more information,” Vance said.

Investigators have already compiled “very good evidence” that can be used to make a “complete picture” of the slaughter and the suspect, Vance said.

Police have also determined Lanza, 20, was not buzzed into Sandy Hook, where he was once a student.

“He forced his way into the school,” Vance said. He did not provide specifics and said that broken windows at the school may have been shattered by police who responded to the emergency.

NBC’s Pete Williams reports that Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza attempted to purchase a rifle earlier this week at a sporting goods store in Danbury, Conn.

Several officials told NBC News that once Lanza was inside, he shot the 20 children at close range.

The motive remained a mystery, and it was unclear why Lanza had argued with staffers at the school on Thursday.

Of the many questions, none were more poignant than those posed by the parents of the dead children, who were mostly concerned that the children had not suffered in their final moments.

“They were wondering whether the children knew what was happening to them, whether they were afraid,” said Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Church, who met with the families overnight at a firehouse while workers from the medical examiner’s office identified the bodies.

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