73. After

Sandy Hook Elementary School

A parent arrived at the school around 9:35am. She was supposed to help the classes make gingerbread houses that day.

As her car was winding around the wide curve of Dickenson Drive, she saw a group of children running past her, down the sidewalk toward the firehouse. Unsure of what exactly was going on, she continued to the school’s parking lot, and parked in one of the empty spaces.

Approaching the front entrance of the school, she saw that the glass next to the doorway was shattered. And she heard what she thought might be gunfire, coming from inside. She took out her phone, and called 9-1-1 — right around the same time that the secretary hiding behind the front desk, and a group of staff members and an injured teacher in Conference Room 9, were all doing the same. The school janitor was soon on the phone with emergency dispatch as well, while quickly locking classroom doors at the rear of the school.

At 9:37am, the first transmission went out on the police radio: “Troop A to all A cars, Troop A to all A cars, be advised Newtown has an active shooter … confirm, active shooting … the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.”

Officers at their duty station in Newtown PD’s headquarters on Main Street sprinted for their cruisers, and came speeding around the flagpole, sirens screaming, and catching air as they floored it down Church Hill Road. Units already out in the field converged, from every direction, on the square-shaped school.

When the first officers arrived on the scene, shots were still being fired. Some units came on foot, crossing the playground from Crestwood Drive, and hopping over the low fence. Another group came up Dickenson Drive, exiting their cars at the edge of the parking lot, and crouching down as they ran for the front entrance.

Inside the school, the group in Conference Room 9 were still on the phone. Through their connection, dispatch recorded the sound of the last volley of shots, fired out the front windows. Then, there was the sound of a single, isolated gunshot. All the gunfire stopped after that.

One team entered from the school’s side door, breaking the window to unlock it, while another came through the hole in the glass, into the front lobby. Chief of Police Michael Kehoe was with the second team.

Gun smoke choked the air in the lobby. The only sound was the muffled whimpering still coming over the intercom. The cops encountered the school janitor coming around the corner, who was still on the phone with 9-1-1, and made him “prone out” at gunpoint, per procedure.

The officers asked him how many casualties there were. He responded that he only knew about the principal and the psychologist — both of whom the police could see, motionless, further down the hallway, near the door to Conference Room 9. There were no signs of life.

Just then, across and further down the hall, the doorway to classroom 8 opened. The officers readied their weapons, preparing to engage the shooter; but when a small figure came out into the hallway, they saw that it was a first-grade girl. And they realized that now, she was standing right where the shooter was last reported seen, outside the door to Conference Room 9. “Get back in the classroom!” one of them shouted. And she did.

The other team came down the hallway then, in active shooter formation, and entered Conference Room 9. A tactical medic appraised the wounded teacher: breathing good, extremity wounds only. He told her he’d be right back. They needed to find the shooter.

Teams formed at the doorways to Classroom 8 and Classroom 10. They made simultaneous entry, with armed officers rushing into each room.

At 9:51, an officer from Room 10 radioed dispatch: “92, We’ve got one suspect down.”

He had found a white male, lying on the floor on his right side, with “massive head trauma.” The officer observed that he “appeared to be about nineteen years of age but he seemed very small. He appeared to have the body size of a twelve-year-old.” The officer took stock of the rest of the room, observing that the shooter was completely surrounded with bullet casings and magazines. “Be advised, we should have multiple weapons, including long rifles and shotgun.” The front entry team had made note of the Saiga shotgun left in the parked black Honda on their way in, but also of the two hooded sweatshirts spread out on the pavement nearby; as far as they were concerned, there was still another shooter, somewhere in the school. Maybe more.

They saw that one of the wounded victims in Room 10 looked like they might have a chance. An officer picked up the student, and sprinted out of the school, begging her to stay alive. But she didn’t make it to Danbury Hospital.

Another officer found two students, unharmed, hiding in the bathroom of Room 10. He made them close their eyes, and the officers moved an easel out into the hallway, positioned to block their sight of the fallen adults, just to be sure. Then the students were handed off to another officer out front, who ran with them, down to the firehouse.

Another team had entered Room 8 at the same moment. They found the girl who had walked out into the hallway, waiting, and an officer took her away. The rest of the room almost looked empty — until they turned the corner, and saw what had happened in the bathroom. The two officers began searching through the scene of horror, desperate to find any survivors.

An officer came running out Room 8 then, with another child in their hands who seemed like they might make it to the hospital. But they didn’t.

Back in Conference Room 9, the medic bandaged up the injured teacher, and put her on a wheeled office chair, pushing her on it until they were out in the parking lot, where they moved her into a cruiser for the ride to the hospital. She would be okay.

There was only one other injury at Sandy Hook that could be treated that day: at the end of the front hall, at the east corner of the school, a teacher had been in her classroom when the shooting first started, and a bullet fired down the hallway apparently passed low through the wall of her room, grazing the arch of her foot. A minor injury. It could wait.

Ambulances were pulling up at the perimeter then, the EMTs aboard asking police if the scene was secure yet. It wasn’t. Then a sergeant, who had helped clear Rooms 8 and 10, emerged back out front, and waved them off. The seriously-wounded had already been taken away, and he knew that there was nothing they could do for any of the victims still in those two classrooms. They were just going through the motions.

He grabbed two colleagues, who were certified tactical medics like he was, and told them to follow him back into the school. “Get ready for the worst day of your life.” Per emergency protocols, a doctor at Danbury Hospital had granted them legal authority to declare death.

* * *

Outside, teams were securing the scene, still looking for the other shooter. Some witnesses inside the school told them they had seen shadows running past, outside, when the gunfire was still going on; but these turned out to have been staff members who had climbed out a window, and ran down the hill to the nearest structure in that direction: a Subway restaurant close to the T intersection.

Another unit, responding to the school’s entrance, had found two terrified parents crouched behind a dumpster, and escorted them to safety. Other civilians came toward the danger; police had to tackle a man as he was running toward the school, who then struggled to explain that he was not involved, but had just gotten a “push” notification on the news app on his smartphone, and “happened to be in the area.”

The scene began to stabilize somewhat, twenty minutes after the shooting stopped. There were surreal scenes, of armed officers taking cover behind playground equipment, while SWAT officers poured into the school, preparing for the evacuation. One of the officers, who had taught D.A.R.E. classes there before, explained “the school is a square” — and so they started going clockwise around the loop, clearing and evacuating classrooms.

The doors of the school opened, and the classes came streaming down to the firehouse, following their usual fire-drill routine. Except this time, each class was flanked by armed officers, on alert for any snipers.

Meanwhile, the children who had escaped from Room 10 were found by townspeople down the hill — a bus driver, a parent, and a neighbor who lived in a home next-door to the firehouse. The adults asked the frightened children what had happened, and then struggled to understand, or comprehend, quite what they said in response: that an angry man had come into their classroom, carrying a big gun, and a brave classmate had yelled for them to “run.” They did. But the boy whose warning saved them didn’t make it.

* * *

Chief Kehoe set up a command post down at the firehouse. Parents started to arrive soon after the evacuation, and as each found their family member and headed back home, the crowd in the firehouse steadily began to thin. The same parents who had been waiting, continued to wait, and waited more. Then, they were all brought into a separate room together, and a common trait became evident: all of them had children who were students in Classroom 8, or Classroom 10.

The door to the room opened, and then Governor Malloy walked in, a somber expression on his face. Then, they knew.

* * *

It all happened so fast, by the time it hit the news (CNN: “reports of a shooting in… Newton?”) it was already over. A swarm of TV cameras descended on Newtown nonetheless, and as televisions and web browsers and smartphones all tuned into whatever was going on in Sandy Hook, that was what they saw: a team of medics standing by a multicolored triage tarp that they had spread out in the parking lot of the elementary school, the tarp rippling from the steady pulse of the helicopters hovering above, everyone waiting for the wounded that would never come. And a black car, parked near the school’s front door.

Before heading into the school, officers responding to the scene had moved the Saiga shotgun and the extra clip from the back seat of the Honda, popped the trunk, and secured the gun there. Then, about an hour after the shooting stopped — once they were sure the scene was secure, and there was no second shooter there — they came back to the car; the shooter didn’t have any identification on him, but they at least had a license plate. “I need the address of the residence of this Connecticut reg,” an officer radioed. “Connecticut passenger Eight Seven Two, Yankee-Echo-October.”

“Roger, standby” his radio squawked back. There was the clattering of some keys, and then “it’s 36 Yogananda Street.”

“Roger. Give me a last name?”

“Lanza.”