As bad as the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary was, it could have been much worse had police not reacted as swiftly as they did, a Connecticut state trooper told a gathering of local police and school officials on Friday.
Lt. Paul Vance, of the Connecticut State Police, said the loss of life in the massacre on Dec. 14, 2012 -- 20 children and six school employees slain -- was halted by the quick reaction of the first police officers to arrive on the scene.
Vance, who served as the official spokesman for the police during the crisis, said the 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, was prepared to killed hundreds, based on the weapons and ammunition recovered from the scene. Vance said investigators believe Lanza cut short his slaughter and took his own life after he saw the first police officers arrive on the scene.
Vance said the officers had training to respond to such incidents and were acting to save lives when Lanza shot himself.
“The entire thing took about three minutes,” he said. “There was no stopping him. He was bound and determined and he knew exactly what he was going to do.”
Vance spoke more than an hour about the tragedy and the police response to the crisis at a special presentation held Friday at the Columbia County Board of Education offices on Hereford Farm Road.
Vance was there at the invitation of Columbia County Board of Education Public Safety Chief Lance Poss, who said he was extremely impressed by the Connecticut lawman’s presentation at school safety conference he had attended. Vance walked the audience through the events of that day in Newtown and how emergency responders and police reacted to the crisis. Aside from examing and controling a massive crime scene, police had hundreds of anxious parents reassured and reunited with children, and they had to contend with a hoard of national and international media which descended on the small town within hours of the shooting.
Vance said police and emergency crews worked well together and followed a plan that kept parents and media informed, while keeping the crime scene intact and safe from those who didn’t need access. Individual troopers were assigned as liaisons to the families who lost loved ones, to give them a direct pipeline to the incident headquarters, if and when they needed anything.
Vance told those in attendance that planning and training for such incidents is an important part of any law enforcement agency’s emergency response strategy. He said Newtown had a lot in common with Columbia County before the massacre.
“The town where this tragedy occurred is a little upscale community with a 40-person police department,” Vance said. “Nobody expected anything like this.
“It can happen here. It can happen anywhere.”