OPINION BY DAN ERBER
Within twenty-four hours of the June 12, 2016 Nightclub shooting in Orlando, FL, the media was rigidly questioning and dissecting the law enforcement response, tactics and overall performance. No media-stone was seemingly left unturned, even before the police investigation had a chance to even gain traction. The exact opposite is the case for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
On the 14th of December 2012, a lone gunman entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot dead 20 children and six adults. Prior to this, he shot his mother in the head as she lay in bed in the home they shared. The gunman was identified as Newtown resident Adam Lanza who took his own life once police confronted him at the school. He entered the school at 0935 hours and all were pronounced dead by 0955 hours.
In focusing solely on the official law enforcement reports (local, state & federal), a disturbing trend appears in the overall response, lack of communication, mismanagement of resources, gross missteps in evidence handling, overall leadership malfunctions, tactical response, documentation, first responder actions, coordination with EMTs & medics, crime scene evidence handling, basic academy life-saving techniques, Connecticut laws involving mass shooting protocol, DNA collection & testing, rudimentary report writing and delays in the release of the official report and gaping holes within it.
While accepting that there can be a “fog of war” in massive stress situations-multiple death event that’s dropped into the lap of a comparatively small police department, mistakes and miscalculations are bound to happen. However, the dismal handling of this incident, from initial 911 call to final release of the official report, is a collection of what not to do in a school shooting event.
The goal is to learn and not repeat.
The most egregious error conducted that tragic day was the absence of any first responder in calling for a medical, trauma or medivac helicopter; with qualified doctors & nurses on board whose sole purpose is to save lives. With 84% of gunshots wounds being non-lethal, a generally higher percentage for children, and first responders reported finding “piles” of children who had apparently been shot, the chances of one or more wounded children surviving would warrant an immediate call for a medivac helicopter. No one would dispute calling as many as could make the flight in a timely manner. None we requested at any time on December 14th.
According to official Newtown Police radio communication transcripts, the first police officers enter the school at 09:44:50 hours. At 09:45:51 hours, Officer Bahamonde reported: “Ok, I need units in the front of the school. I’ve got bodies here. Let’s uh .. get ambulances.”
At 09:46:38 hours, Officer Nute reports: “Can I send in EMS?” Sgt. Kullgren replies: “Stage them at the end of the driveway between the firehouse and the school please.” He does not want ambulances to the front of the school, but there is a fire-rescue truck enroute to the school parking lot to set up triage START Tarps. The shooting has stopped, Adam Lanza has taken his own life and there should be enough officers on scene to escort & protect medical professionals into the school; taking into account additional shooters and/or the possibility of explosive devices. Kids are losing blood as they speak.
There is no known attempt to get any medically trained personnel into the school. Nor is there any known attempt to at least save organs for transplant. Connecticut State Law on Pediatric Protocols for children with gunshot wounds states only a qualified doctor or certified nurse can pronounce someone deceased (unless they are obviously dead from something as grievous as decapitation). What law enforcement official(s) on scene quickly declared all 27 persons “deceased”, and by what Connecticut State authority did they do this? This information cannot found in any official CT State Police reports, FBI report or Newtown Police report. Someone declared them deceased within about 20 minutes of the first 911 call. You’d think the parents and media would be interested, or at least mildly curious.
At 10:20:28 hours, Sgt. Kullgren asks: “Do you have a number of patients?” Forty minutes into this event and he’s just now asking about the number of patients?
At 1047 hours the State Police show assisting the Newtown Police.
At approximately 1054 hours, the live helicopter footage shows approximately thirty “first responders” standing around in the school’s parking lot. No apparent attempt at saving lives, searching for suspects, or fulfilling their basic job description…other than responding first.
According to dash-cam film (report #00056732 between 0957 – 1030 hours) released in the official police report, not one of the 465+ children or adults are recorded being evacuated from the school. Not one.
The report reads that at “10:00:45 hours”, as recorded on Lt. Davis’s dashcam, a “teacher, students and a detective” run across the parking lot to the firehouse. His dashcam is directly facing the evacuation route.
At 10:05:47 CSP Sgt. O’Donnell says on the radio: “…another large group of students coming out.” None are recorded. The official Radio Call Log indicates at 0958, 10:06, 10:07, 10:08, 10:12, 10:14, 10:32, and twice at 10:33 hours, “groups of children”, staff members, parents and teachers are evacuated out of the front of the school, across the parking lot, and to the firehouse. Again, none are visible on the official recording on any of the unit’s dashcams. What is recorded is the occasional first responder milling around, in no particular hurry or direction, the parking lot. It looks like ‘down-time’ at a monthly training event.
Additionally, Officer Allison Peters states (unknown if State Trooper or Newtown PD), in Supplemental Report #00056732, “observed and recorded” the pertinent events in the timeline (of TFC John McGeever’s Dash Cam – recording the same area as Lt. Davis’ dashcam) including the mass evacuation of students, parents, teachers and staff. So, she is officially recording she did see an evacuation of humans from the school. Allison must be the only one who saw it, not including the supervisor who approved the report, because there is not an evacuation of anyone on the official videos. The official police report is grossly incorrect in either its’ timing of the evacuation, or the evacuation route taken was completely different than reported. Either way, who approved this inaccurate and sloppy report?
One of four widely circulated photographs, from Newtown Bee photographer Shannon Hicks, is of students being evacuated. First off, what officers or deputies allowed a group of parents to stand and watch? Who let the photographer passed the crime scene tape?
In another of her photographs, two of the same boys appear to be evacuating again with a later group of students. Why would anyone, police or otherwise, send a child back to the dangerous crime scene to re-evacuate? Dangerous, reckless, liability ridden and illogical.
The Hicks’ photograph of the state trooper evacuating three others raises two major questions: First, there is no security camera fixed to the brick wall (next to the beginning of the overhang, where the brick goes two-toned). Second, there is not shotgun shell behind the dark colored four-door Subaru.
Someone, at the request of the police as it’s an official crime scene, installed a security camera the night of the shooting as it’s seen in police report photographs taken on the 15th of December. What company installed it? Why and by who’s request? Who was monitoring it? In a 6700+ page police report, that would be something you would indicate the installation and purpose of. There’s no mention of it or its’ purpose.
The official report says a spent shotgun shell was tagged & booked as evidence. It was found behind a Subaru car in the parking lot (just over the state trooper’s left shoulder in the above photo). In the photo, there is no shotgun shell on the ground. No shotgun
was reported fired during the entire incident and Adam Lanza did not go into that area of the school. Someone, other than a very dead Adam Lanza, had to have put it there to be collected. Teacher? Parent? Law enforcement? Who placed it there seventy or more minutes after Adam Lanza took his own life? Why didn’t the investigators look into this anomaly? Or is it just more sloppy evidence collection and reporting?
The unprofessionalism displayed in the above photographs is staggering. Less than a hundred yards away, there are “piles” of dead children and murdered adults (maybe some still alive fighting for life, we’ll never know), plus a secretary and school nurse still unaccounted for hiding in a closet – but the dashcam is recording relaxed and seemingly unconcerned officers laughing it up. The footage shows the officers taking food and drink into the school’s main entrance. Who eats during at the initial part of an on-going mass casualty, multiple murdered children nightmare? It’s amazing that the media, so often super-hyper-critical of all things law enforcement, did not exploit these photos. I’d like to hear from an angry parent or two as well.
According to the police report, at 1035:13 hours, CT State Police transmission reported Unit #405 asked for all medics bring defibrillators into the school. If the report indicates that all victims were declared dead at approximately 0955 hours, for whom is he asking these devices be brought in for? Sixty minutes have now past since the first 911 call. Crime scene photos later show two defibrillator machines lined up in the school’s hallway. Who left them there? Who used them or tried to use them? There is no record of any of this other than the radio request.
As reported in the STATE OF CONNECTICUT, DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY INVESTIGATION CFS Report #: 1200704559- 00079318 REPORT (DPS-302-E) (REVISED 2/3/06) NEWTOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT OFFICER LIAM SEABROOK: At 09:36:13 Newtown Police Officer Seabrook #95, hears the call of a shooting at Sandy Hook School. He enters Dickinson Drive at 09:42:47 hours, the street leading into the school and deploys at the school. However, this is impossible as Officer Seabrook is writing speeding tickets at 7 Meadow Brooke Rd at 10:15 hours on Dec 14, 2012; as documented in the Newtown Incident report number 2012-00030520. Did he leave Sandy Hook School, after being there for thirty minutes, to go write some moving violations? Very inaccurate and sloppy record processing and police documentation.
At 09:41:05 hours Officer Seabrook meets up with Newtown Police Lt. Vanghele (who is driving a department SUV) at the intersection of Church Hill Rd and Connors/Wire Rd. Both drive to Sandy Hook School. However, we do not hear any radio transmissions or contact from Lt. Vanghele until 10:38:13 hours. Why is a ranking officer, Lt. Vanghele, completely quiet and not coordinating anything to responding units, medical teams, fire departments, etc. during a mass shooting event in his city?
10:10:36 hours, Officer Seabrook: “If you could advise all units please, the roof is clear.” How is this possible when he is still writing tickets at 7 Meadow Brooke Rd at 10:15 hours; as documented in the Newtown Incident report number 2012-00030520?
At 10:50:06 hours, Newtown Police K9 Officer Figol: “81 to 56 (Sgt. Kullgren).” She is working an off-duty job at a construction site with Newtown Police Lt. Sinko; who is third in command within the Newtown Police Department. She asks permission from Sgt. Kullgren, on the radio, to leave her off-duty job so she can respond to shots fired at Sandy Hook. She should have just left to help save lives, or at least asked Lt. Sinko permission to leave. Lt. Sinko does not leave this same off-duty job for another 45 minutes. This is a major head-scratcher. They know that children & adults in their community are being murdered, but seem to have zero concern. This incredibly negligent response would be, if a hardbound book, an all-time best seller. How irresponsible and uncaring can you get?
10:58:24 hours, Sgt. Kullgren allows her to leave her off-duty job; Lt Sinko stays on for unknown and inexplicable reasons. Maybe the off-duty job paid better.
11:48:27 hours Sgt. Kullgren replies to a radio request; this the last time we hear from this supervisor for the remainder of the day. Where he goes is not recorded. End-of-watch and went home?
At 11:26:16 hours you hear the Chief of Newtown Police, Chief Kehoe: “I have the superintendent here. What would you like us to do?” The on-scene police chief is asking the Newtown Police Dispatcher what he should do with the school superintendent? You don’t hear him give any directions or commands the entire day and he’s relying on the dispatcher for on-site information, where he is on-site? His sworn statements in the official report are completely redacted; possibly at his request?
Newtown Police, second in command and on-duty that day, Captain Rio’s provided zero directives or commands during this massive casualty incident in his city. What was he doing all day?
The FBI report and CT State Police report indicate that Adam Lanza attended Sandy Hook School. However, is there no record of him attending the school.
Instead, he attended St Rose of Lima private school, several miles away. In one of the supplemental reports (#1200704559 and comparison report #1200704597), a subpoena is filed, and served on 010213, at the St Rose of Lima for Adam’s school records; no known subpoena is recorded or filed for Sandy Hook, Newtown Middle School or the Newtown High School (all three of which the FBI and state police record and document Lanza attending). Digging up basic school records and recording them should be an easy task; how did the FBI and State Police fumble this?
In the official Supplemental DNA Report, DNA from both Adam & Nancy Lanza show to “eliminate” them as possible suspects. Neither matched on the trigger of the .22 caliber rifle used to kill her, on its’ shoulder stock, feed area, chambered rounds or pistol grip.
To make the investigation seem even shoddier, the DNA profile (for the .22 cal rifle ammo Adam Lanza used) comes back to a Convicted Offender DNA profile from the New York State Police Investigation Center DB #10011106A. The FBI, Newtown Police and the State Police all neglected to follow-up on this lead. If they did, it was omitted from the official report or any supplemental reports. Does this not make Adam Lanza innocent of the murder of his mom, Nancy Lanza?
Page 4 of this report also eliminates both Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza from a positive match on the handle area of the driver’s exterior front door handle and the driver’s exterior rear door handle. This vehicle is registered to her and she was driving late the night of the 13th and he drove to Sandy Hook School the morning of the shooting. Apparently no follow-up was done on these findings or the Lanza’s both wiped their DNA off the car doors.
Adding to the DNA confusion and apparent lack of follow-up investigation at the Lanza residence, of the approximate one-hundred and fifty 5.56 caliber rifle rounds, fired by Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook School, could not be traced to the Bushmaster Rifle he used. According to the official report: Page 5: 53 “No positive identification could be made to any of the bullet evidence submissions noted … … in 5.56 mm caliber. The physical condition of the bullet jacket surfaces were severely damaged and corroded. They all lacked individual striated marks of sufficient agreement for the identification process. The test fires also exhibited a lack of individual striated marks on the bullet surface for comparison purposes. This condition can be caused by fouling in the barrel of the rifle and the ammunition itself. The Bushmaster rifle cannot be eliminated as having fired the 5.56 caliber bullet evidence examined,” (quoting from the 6/19/13 Forensic Science Laboratory report).
Final bits of DNA confusion: According to the official report, in DNA testing sample #6, Adam Lanza’s DNA was not on the weapon that he used to take his own life, a Glock 10mm handgun. Also, one of the murdered teacher’s DNA was on two of the weapons used in the school, plus the ammunition inside the weapon’s magazine; still locked into position. This seems to be the most pre-adolescently run state investigation centers in the United States; how did a murdered person remove a few rounds from a magazine, then put them back in? There was no time or reason for Lanza to do this. Connecticut State taxpayers are being taken for a serious ride.
Only one .22 caliber bullet shell casing was booked into evidence from Nancy Lanza’s bedroom. The report says that he fired three shots. Inaccurate report or Adam picked up two of the casings and took them with him; more likely the former.
Here’s a photo of a law enforcement officer, without gloves, checking the chamber of a weapon found in the car Adam Lanza drove to the school. There is no mention if a bomb sniffing dog checked the vehicle first, nothing apparently suspicious of a car trunk completely free of anything & spotless, and it was finally searched about nine hours after the first 911 call.
Here’s the official report listing 20 old Adam Lanza as being thirty years old. Basic information messed up again as the sloppy report goes on.
Here’s a witnesses’ name that is redacted for unknown reasons, then not redacted. Basic Report Writing 101. Did anyone notify Witness “Vest” to tell him or her their information is now public record?
Eleven Connecticut State Troopers (in sworn statements) report that one-by-one, they all entered Sandy Hook School through the front shot-out glass window. All 11 State Troopers weaved themselves through the hole in the smashed glass, with duty belts, tac vests, helmet and rifle & sidearm, all-the-while not disturbing the indoor plant, chairs, magazine rack, coffee table or the magazines still stacked nicely on the coffee table. Even Moe knows to send either Curly or Shemp through the broken window, then walk around and push open the front door. The real kicker is that there were numerous Newtown officers inside the front lobby at the time, and any of them could have open the door if asked or as a basic professional curtesy.
CT State Trooper Lt Paul Vance said, on the 60 Minutes news show, that Adam Lanza’s body was found in the hallway. However, the official police report says he was found in classroom #10, where he had taken his own life once the police arrived.
FBI crime stats for 2012 record that zero persons were killed in Newtown, CT in 2012. (2013 Crime in the US FBI table 8). Did the state police tell the FBI not to include the numbers? If so, when does the FBI take orders from a state police?
Last item regarding the FBI: Who is this agent (third in line below left photo) who wears a tactical uniform with no POLICE-FBI markings or identification, carries AR15’s upside-down pointing at others, is first seen with an AR15 and sniper rifle, then later no long-guns at all? Where, and more importantly why, is he securing his weapon(s) when assisting other law enforcement in looking for other shooters? Who carries a sniper rifle like this (unless you’ve never carried one before, and if that’s the case, who gave it to him to use)? Who signed off on this agent graduating from the Academy and who let him out of the local office to go to Newtown?
The below official photo is very perplexing. It shows Medical Examiner Carver (directly below the flag pole in the black jacket – shouldn’t he be busy with 27 autopsies to perform?) and state police major crime command center vehicle, the Colors are at full mast (they were lowered on the 15th), the front lobby window does not appear broken out (if it is, that officer is standing on top of the glass and possible evidence) and the two front classroom windows don’t appear to be shot out and there’s no path-of-bullet evidence markers through in them.
Could be a trick of the light or angle of the picture, but the timing of this photo indicates it’s late afternoon on the day of the shooting. Who and why was the glass replaced on the day of the massacre? Just an interesting photo to include in the official report.
(photo lightened for better clarity
This is a well-known photo of the chaos that was the only exit route out of Sandy Hook School and directly next to the fire department. Who was in control of this nightmare? Lives are at stake and there may be additional shooters on the loose. What about crime-scene integrity? A perimeter, maybe?
How are fire trucks, EMS & medics supposed to get in and out? Why are firemen, on film, putting up CAUTION tape? Attaching it to vehicles and further hindering entrance and egress?
Plus, who decided to have approximately 500 children, plus 60 school staff, be evacuated to the volunteer fire house? One evac location? A small fire house?
It’s amateur hour at Sandy Hook.
The house at 34 Yogananda St in Newtown belongs to Mr. Trentacostas and though not included in the official report, two or three government vehicles (and what looks to be detectives) are out front in a conference on the morning of Dec 14th. The photo does not show the two police cars blocking his driveway. Nancy Lanza is lying dead next door (in the white house) and all the police activity is at the house next door? What was going on and why wasn’t it reported?
Mr. Trentacostas is the president & CEO of Newtown Savings Bank. The United Way, with the help of Mr. Trentacostas, set up an online victim’s fund at 1858 hours on the same day of the shooting. They, in Trentacostas’ own words, received “countless requests” to have such funds set up. They developed the concept for the funds, planned and conducted a meeting with the United Way representative(s), established a bank account to receive the funds, clarified any and all legal challenges, determine the slogans & taglines acceptable, create the artwork and any webpages associated and publish it all online before 7PM the night of the shooting. Seems almost impossible since the first 911 call was at about 0935, total killed & wounded not released until the afternoon and he had police at his house, seemingly for some time, about an hour after the first 911 call and before the police seem to know of Nancy Lanza’s murder.
Did anyone investigate how this United Way Fund was set up within hours? Not found in any of the official police reports or supplemental reports nor the unexplained law enforcement visit to his house.
The media told all of us, again and again, about the outstanding security system just set up that year at Sandy Hook School; cameras, bullet proof windows and a system to “buzz” in all visitors after they showed appropriate ID. However, the window was easily shot through, there is no visible cameras (not counting the one the police, or someone, set up the night of the shooting) and no visible system to “buzz” anyone in at the front of the school. If you see a camera, or know of any security system, please contact me.
Assuming there were cameras, the official report does not have redacted photos of Adam Lanza, outside, or inside, the school during his running amok. Not one photo. We don’t even get the satisfaction of him after he took his own life. We did with the Columbine School murderers, but not Lanza.
Is the little black box on the right side door frame the security “buzz” in box? No sign that says “push button” to enter? No camera for a secretary to see the person or ID held up for identification. No Americans with Disabilities (ADA) approved automatic door opening system (no ADA approved bathrooms inside or in the school’s parking lot – not one sanctioned place for any handicapped person to park in this “model” school). Also, where are the “smoke free” & “bullying free” zone posters, “visitors check in at office” signs, school pride, school award(s) or anything on the front doors, like every other school in America has?
Also absent in the official report is law enforcement investigating why all security systems at the school failed. Not just failed, but failed spectacularly.
The local newspaper, the Newtown Bee, reported that the school spent “ten times” the amount on security in 2012 as in the previous year. You would think the cops would be interested and the parents even more interested. Where is the outrage at a newly paid for & installed school security system that could not even take a photo of someone at the front door? Who installed it and maintained it? What company is responsible? Who hired this company and who kept records on it? Why aren’t the parents suing the security company, school district and local & State government? Lastly, why isn’t our all-knowing media hot on this story?
Why did the New Haven Federal Bureau of Investigation field office feel the need to “classify” the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting? For what possible reason? National security? Organized Crime? Terrorism? They didn’t classify the Aurora movie theater shooting or the school shooting at Columbine. Very odd. Maybe the unmarked FBI Agent mentioned earlier, pointing his weapon at others, ordered it classified?
Within 30 hours of the June 2016 Orlando Nightclub shooting the media was questioning the response, tactics and methods of law enforcement; scrutiny was the theme for the day, as in most incidents today involving the police.
At Sandy Hook, nothing seems to phase anyone in the press, and law enforcement gets away with an abysmal response. The entire report took over a year to complete, after media spokesperson, State Police Lt Paul Vance said it would take “two months”. Why so long? It wasn’t for proofreading or accuracy reasons.
Lt Vance also threatened to “prosecute” anyone who veered from the official government narrative to this event. In other words, he just suspended the Constitutional 1st Amendment rights of every Citizen. Why would he say that? Under what justification or authority? Very odd and disturbing thing to be heard by policing official at a major crime scene.
In a January 2018 article, now retired Lt Vance said, “I am proud of the state police department and the local officers and federal officers, they did a lot.” His expectations must be so shallow, it’s the Three Stooges in Technicolor; see earlier reference.
The Newtown police did not perform their own examination of their response, instead relied on the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association to review their response. The whopping nine-page report concluded that officers responded quickly to the school and, unlike other after-action reports by the association, the report did not make any recommendations on how to improve the department’s response. Not one possible change in response? Everything was perfect? A nine-page report?
Que rolling eyes now.
The five-year in the making State Police report, released in January 2018, says, “The agency should emphasize the importance of report writing competencies and strive to take immediate corrective steps to prevent inaccurate, untimely, and poorly written reports.” Ya think? This is police academy level stuff, not experienced officers, detectives and salty SWAT Team operators.
The entire Sandy Hook Elementary School mass casualty event is a shining example of how not to respond and how not to report on a mass casualty incident.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of C-VINE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dan Erber is a former Security Force & Infantry US Marine and retired police officer from Costa Mesa, California; working patrol, SWAT and traffic.
Since 1991, his company H3 LLC has conducted over 20 full scale Mass Shooting/Violence in the Workplace scenarios (including Red Cross, medicvac helicopters, fire rescue, medics, military & multiple actors) and has lectured on the subject to both government entities, schools and private corporations.
H3 is a global security corporation with over 28 years of contractual services to governments and select private organizations. H3 has trained over 2500 units and agencies around the
Leonard Bacani is a retired Santa Ana Police Officer and the Founder of HOMELAND SECURITY SERVICES, INC. headquartered in Southern California.HOMELAND SECURITY SERVICES, INC. is a Private Investigation, Private Security firm and State Authorized Training Facility. Contact Leonard at LBacani@hssinc.us for assistance or call the office: (714) 865-1135. Website: http://www.homelandsecurityservices.com