The Sandy Hook Report
An Active Shooter Incident (ASI) is filled with acts of heroism, bravery, and conduct, which far exceed the norm. In the case of the Sandy Hook tragedy, Jesse Lewis, just 6 years old, witnessed Adam Lanza, murder his teacher and other students with an assault rifle. When Lanza’s rifle jammed, Jesse yelled, “Run.” Six classmates ran to safety as Lanza cleared his weapon. Jesse acting on behalf of others with death knocking on the door saved lives as he too was murdered once Lanza cleared his assault rifle. What does law enforcement do when the shooting is over, the shooter’s final act is the taking of his own life, and the end of the ASI transforms into a new beginning? How does law enforcement deal with the devastation and heartache unfolding and unraveling in the eyes of the officers and the soul of the community?
The Sandy Hook ASI did not end with Lanza’s death. This is when law enforcement had its first opportunity to investigate Adam Lanza. Unfortunately, after-the-fact it was learned Adam Lanza was infatuated with the role of the Active Shooter (AS). The Connecticut State Police (CTSP) with the assistance of outside agencies placed the pieces to the puzzle together regarding the actions taken by Lanza. The law enforcement community responded by documenting the steps taken by Lanza in implementing his attack to ensure those steps do not go unnoticed and will not be taken again by another.
The crime scene officers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School had more to do than process the crime scene. The CTSD would not permit Adam Lanza to destroy the memory of those murdered. The crime scene personnel preserved evidence in conjunction with the investigation. A step by step approach was taken to ensure those fallen were remembered for how they lived as well as died. To do less than this would suggest the 20 students and 6 adults murdered by Lanza never existed. It took approximately one year to complete the investigation. The final report of the Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street, Newtown Conn, was well worth the wait.
The CTSP compiled reams of documents detailing the care taken by crime scene investigators. This was not done solely to address procedural requirements. This effort was focused on presenting the families with any keepsakes of their loved ones. Investigators collected backpacks, lunch boxes, coats and other personal belongings from the blood-spattered classrooms. The children’s individual artwork that decorated the classrooms and any craft projects that were displayed were also collected. Any items the police could salvage of sentimental value to the victim or their families were gathered, cleaned and packaged to be returned.
After the blood-stained, evidence was processed it too was cleaned to be returned. The family of teacher Anne Marie Murphy received her reading glasses, yellow earrings, cell phone and watch three days after her death. Family members of one victim picked up their belongings one week after the killings. Another family received a pink-and-white box filled with their slain child’s clothing. This is an incredible amount of effort and determination generated by the CTSP on the behalf of those murdered, injured, and those dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
The officers changed over from their first-responder role to that of care givers. The primary focus was to save the wounded, spare those in the school from any further anguish, and assist the Newtown community in addressing the shock and horror of this incident. This effort caused officers to experience reactions to a situation no police department can prepare itself to address. The carnage of 18 students and 6 adults lying dead in a school as two children were dying in the arms of the police and later died at the hospital is a situation which required the unprecedented investigation which followed. A motive is not known, which led to Lanza’s slaughter of the innocents. This has to do with the fact the actions taken by Lanza is a senseless act. Why a heinous act was committed is the one question which is the most difficult to answer.
The best attempt to establish why any incident occurred is achieved by the facts and circumstances obtained by interviewing and investigating the roles taken by those directly involved. That opportunity was lost with the death of Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy. What were the warning signs? Were the warning signs addressed, ignored, denied, or not acted upon as Lanza’s conditioned worsened? These are the questions which must be answered in order to understand how the Sandy Hook Incident occurred and how to prevent a recurrence.
On December 14, 2012, the killing began at the Lanza residence. Nancy Lanza was shot four times as she was asleep in bed. Once Adam Lanza murdered his mother, he drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Why was it necessary for Adam Lanza to kill his mother? There is no clear motive; however, this is not the first time an AS has taken the life of a loved one prior to implementing his plan of attack.
On July 31, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman stabbed and shot his mother at her residence. He left a note with her body, Whitman explained she was in a better place. He wished to relieve her suffering. Killing his mother was the best thing to do. After killing his mother, Whitman went home. Once his wife was asleep he stabbed her to death. He typed a note before her death, stating that he was going to kill her. He said that “I love her dearly. . . . I cannot rationally pinpoint any specific reason for doing this.” He thought it might have been his own selfishness or his desire to spare her from facing embarrassment over his actions.
Lanza’s actions suggest he too thought it best to spare his mother from being held accountable after his plan of attack was complete. Although Adam Lanza didn’t leave a note behind, I would not be surprised to learn Lanza was aware of the actions taken by Whitman. The CTSD investigation uncovered a spreadsheet of mass killers on Lanza’s computer and articles dating back to 1881. Lanza much like Whitman realized the consequences of his actions.
Another question is why Sandy Hook? Why were innocent children murdered? Once again, there is no clear motive. However, what was established is Lanza entered the school carrying nearly 31 pounds of ammunition. This is alarming considering Lanza used a Bushmaster .223 to fire a total of 154 shots in less than five minutes. In classroom 8, Lanza killed the teacher and 15 of the 16 students. Lanza then entered classroom 10, he shot the teacher and five students. In classroom 8, 80, rounds were fired, in classroom 10, only 49 rounds were fired. Why didn’t the killing continue when Lanza possessed pounds of ammunition? It appears what happened at Sandy Hook is much like what happened at Aurora, Colorado when James Holmes was armed to kill many more people than he did. Both Lanza and Holmes lost time to kill when their assault rifle jammed. In both instances, time was provided for people to flee as the police responded. Holmes surrendered without a fight and Lanza took his own life.
There is a concern about copycat ASIs, but greater concern needs to be directed at the fact ASIs have tripled in occurrence over the last five years. After-the-fact investigations have uncovered a potential AS studies the actions of previous individuals who have implemented an ASI. It is frightening to say, but Adam Lanza’s conduct more than suggests Lanza spent time planning to do what no other AS has done in the United States. Adam Lanza attacked a grade school with the intentions of killing as many children as possible. Had it not been for Lanza’s gun jamming, Jesse yelling, “Run!” and the prompt arrival of the Newtown Police Department the end result is unimaginable.
The only way to overcome an ASI is to stop it before it begins. One’s family, friends, associates, fellow students, teachers, guidance counselors, mental health professionals and school administrators or a combination of each group is the first line of defense in stopping an AS before the killing begins. If law enforcement is provided information, a proactive approach can be initiated rather than relying solely on response once the killing begins. Response will always be a part of overcoming an ASI, but the time is here to stop an ASI before the shooting begins. Officer William Chapman was one of the first officers to enter rooms 8 and 10, and as he realized what had happened, he said, “My heart broke, and I walked around the room saying to myself no, no, no.”
As of this writing the first Active Shooter Incident in 2014 occurred on Tuesday at the Berrendo Middle School located in Roswell NM. A 12-year-old male student entered the school gym, shot an 11-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl with a sawed off shot gun removed from his backpack. The shooting was over within 10 seconds. A teacher intervened; the shooter was shortly apprehended, and is now in custody under psychiatric care. All these events occurred AFTER several students were forewarned by the shooter no to go to school!
The question traditionally asked is, “Why did this happen?” All prior ASIs leading up to the Sandy Hook Report and now the Berrendo Middle School shooting requires only one question be answered. Why do “we” let the Active Shooter go first?
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Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, IACSP, and FBI – LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow. He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via www.brightlinepoliceconsulting.com