1 of 4 | Grief-stricken mourners react as they leave a fire house near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. following a shooting that left 26 people dead -- including 20 first-grade children, December 14, 2012. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo
HARTFORD, Conn., Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The 16-member commission assigned to investigate the appalling shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School more than two years ago has completed a draft of its final report and will submit it to Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy next month.
Posted to the state of Connecticut's official website, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission begins the report by offering a dedication to the 26 first-graders and faculty at the elementary who were shot to death by gunman Adam Lanza on Dec. 14, 2012. The dedication does not include Lanza's mother, Nancy, who was also killed by her son before he set out for the elementary school.
The commission, chaired by Hamden, Conn., Mayor Scott Jackson, heard testimony from more than 100 people involved in the tragedy and sought advice from dozens of safety and mental health specialists.
According to the report, the chain of events began three days before the shooting when Nancy Lanza left Adam Lanza home alone and checked into a resort -- partially to see how her son handled being alone. The morning after she returned home, the report says, Adam Lanza entered her bedroom and shot her four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle she owned.
Adam Lanza, the commission says, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary with a small arsenal of firearms in his car -- including two semiautomatic handguns, an M-16-like assault rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. He took with him more than 400 rounds of ammunition -- all of which had been legally purchased by his mother.
The assault began at around 9:30 a.m. local time when Lanza used the assault rifle to shoot out panes of glass at the school's locked front doors and and gain entry. The 20-year-old gunman wore a hat and sunglasses during the assault, and appeared calm, the report said.
The first victims killed were school principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who each ran from a meeting into a hallway upon hearing gunfire.
"The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The President later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his Presidency." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
According to the report, the first 911 emergency call from the school was placed at 9:35 a.m. and the first police units arrived four minutes later. But it would be five more minutes before the first officers entered the school -- more than 10 minutes after the initial 911 call.
The commission says at about that time, Lanza walked down a hallway and entered two first-grade classrooms and began firing indiscriminately. Two educators and 15 children were shot in the first classroom with a Bushmaster assault rifle, and two more instructors and five children were shot in the adjacent class. None of the injured children survived but the report says several first-graders escaped unharmed. Authorities subsequently recovered 129 spent bullet casings from the rifle in the classrooms.
At 9:40 a.m., after his assault on the first-graders, the commission says Lanza killed himself with a single shot from his Glock handgun. His body was subsequently found in the second classroom. He never fired his other handgun or the shotgun -- and was never confronted by a single police officer.
The commission declined to describe the aftermath of the shootings and its affect on victims' relatives, friends and the community.
"The experiences of the many different participants are so different after 9:40 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2012 that the commission feels it would be a disservice to all to attempt to capture those experiences," the report said.
The commission then put forth an expansive list of recommendations, with the purpose of making schools across the country safer. In evaluating the Newtown massacre -- along with the 1999 Columbine High School attack in Littleton, Colo., and 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech University -- the commission considered a multitude of reforms involving school security, mental health treatment and emergency response procedures for law enforcement.
The first recommendation listed in the report is a simple one: Make sure classrooms can be locked from the inside.
"Testimony and other evidence presented to the commission reveals that there has never been an event in which an active shooter breached a locked classroom door," it said. "The commission cannot emphasize enough the importance of this recommendation."
The report also stated its belief that all types of threats -- not just "active shooter" assaults -- should be considered in the implementation of improved school safeguards.
"Although history has a penchant for repeating itself, the commission was continually reminded that crime profiles evolve as criminal methodologies are addressed," it said. "In short, the commission adopted an 'all hazards' risk management approach in developing its recommendations as the most prudent means to address risk mitigation."
The board emphasized that it arrived at its recommendations by evaluating their expected effectiveness -- not the financial cost they will require.
"The commission started from the premise that one cannot truly put a price on a child's life," it noted.
The advisory board also stressed the importance of "situational awareness" in schools -- meaning students, parents and faculty should make an effort to observe and report potential warning signs of an impending tragedy.
"The concept is that people cannot react to what they are unaware of," the panel said. "Testimony received by the commission demonstrated without any doubt that every second counts between the initiation of a threatening event and the arrival of emergency responders. Seconds and minutes equate to lives lost or saved."
The commission also recommended a feasibility study to evaluate the issuance of classroom door keys, which are sometimes needed to lock a door, to substitute teachers.
"In fact, a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School was unable to lock her classroom door because the school did not provide substitute teachers with classroom keys," it said.
Custodial staff, the panel noted, should also be included among key personnel on the first line of defense against an armed intruder.
"Custodians have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with regard to the physical school building and grounds," the report stated.
The report went on to detail numerous additional recommendations involving building security, gun control and school safety planning and compliance, and recommended the Connecticut legislature amend current laws to allow for applicable changes.
The commission stressed the importance of a quick police response to emergency situations, and recommended that all sworn law enforcement officers in Connecticut be given peace officer status -- a designation to allow them to respond to any emergency in any location, regardless of jurisdiction, when asked by the primary law enforcement agency responsible for the crime scene.
The panel worked on the report for more than two years and conferred with numerous experts, officials and agencies in the fields of law enforcement, mental health and government. In addition to the list of recommendations, the report repeatedly addressed the ever-changing landscape of crime and stressed the importance of adapting to those circumstances.
"While this tragedy happened in a school, we must take steps to ensure that the next time it doesn't happen in a movie theatre, at a shopping mall, at a ballgame or on a street corner in any of our cities where street crime, including using guns that were purchased under loopholes, have become a constant problem in our society," it said.
The commission is expected to submit the final report to Gov. Malloy on March 3.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Board consists of the following membership: Scott Jackson (Chair): Mayor, Town of Hamden; Dr. Adrienne L. Bentman; General (Adult) Psychiatry Residency Director; Ron Chivinski: Teacher, Newtown Middle School; Robert Ducibella: Former (retired) Senior and Founding Principal of Ducibella Venter & Santore; Terry Edelstein (Vice-Chair): Nonprofit Liaison, Office of Governor Dannel P. Malloy; Kathleen Flaherty, Esq.: Associate Executive Director, Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.; Alice M. Forrester, Ph.D.: Executive Director, Clifford W. Beers Guidance Clinic, Inc.; Ezra H. Griffith, M.D.: Professor Emeritus of and Senior Research
Scientist in Psychiatry; Patricia Keavney-Maruca: Member, State Board of Education; Christopher Lyddy: Chief Operating Officer, Advanced Trauma Solutions, Inc.; Denis McCarthy: Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director, City of Norwalk; Barbara O'Connor: Director of Public Safety; Wayne Sandford: Professor, University of New Haven; David J. Schonfeld, M.D., FAAP: Director, National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement; Harold I. Schwartz, M.D.: Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Hartford Hospital's Institute of Living; Bernard R. Sullivan (Vice-Chair): Former Chief of Police, City of Hartford.