Look upon the face of evil. This is, believe it or not, a school photo of Adam Lanza, who will live, forever, in infamy at the age of 20.
Years of serving as a police officer have taught me a number of useful lessons. Among the most important for any author is that the information available to the public after an infamous shooting like the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut, is always contradictory, sparse and incomplete. The media commonly rush to publication with whatever they have–or presume to be the way it should have been–and often don’t update anything that does not conform to their preferred narrative. True understanding takes months, even years, to obtain through painstaking investigation and analysis, yet the news cycle is seconds.
When I write about such things, I draw on experience and common sense to try to fill in the gaps. At least where Sandy Hook is concerned, that is–for the most part–no longer necessary. The Danbury Judicial District State’s Attorney, Stephen J. Sedensky III, issued his report on the shooting on November 25, 2013. A PDF of that document is available here.
Interestingly, vicious crimes like Sandy Hook no longer appear to be particularly useful to anti-liberty advocates. Mr. Obama’s early 2013 push for new gun restrictions failed in spectacular fashion, and a recent benefit concert in Chicago using Sandy Hook as a draw has been cancelled:
A Chicago benefit concert to help first responders to last year’s Sandy Hook massacre was canceled due to low ticket sales, it was announced Wednesday.
The event, scheduled for Sunday…was set to feature performances by local musicians and the Chicago Children’s Choir and a silent auction.
‘It is with great sadness that we have to cancel the Chicago Musicians Care Performance & Benefit event … due to low ticket sales,’ read a Facebook post from organizer Chicago Musicians Care, which was created in response to the shooting.
One of the goals of the music project, said founder Kevin Tenbrunsel…was ‘to send a message to the people of Sandy Hook that this city has not forgotten, and still grieve the tragedy of that day.
I suspect the residents of Newtown, particularly the parents of the victims, don’t need any additional “messages,” no matter how well meaning, particularly as an unimaginably painful anniversary so close to Christmas approaches.
This article will present an update of the facts, which are, as one might imagine, different than what the public has been fed, and will present analysis of the lessons best learned. Perhaps the way to honestly honor those who died that day is to know what to do to prevent and deter such crimes, and to stop them when they occur, hopefully without loss of life, other than that of the attacker(s).
Writings On The Sandy Hook Attack:
My previous articles relating to the Sandy Hook shootings may be accessed here:
(1) 12-17-12: A Cop’s Eye View of Newtown, CT
(4) 01-04-12: Let’s Have That Discussion
The Attack (taken from the SA’s report, Executive Summary):
On the morning of December 14, 2012, the shooter, age 20, heavily armed, went to Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES) in Newtown, where he shot his way into the locked school building with a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle. He then shot and killed the principal and school psychologist as they were in the north hallway of the school responding to the noise of the shooter coming into the school. The shooter also shot and injured two other staff members who were also in the hallway.
The shooter then went into the main office, apparently did not see the staff who were hiding there, and returned to the hallway.
After leaving the main office, the shooter then went down the same hallway in which he had just killed two people and entered first grade classrooms 8 and 10, the order in which is unknown. While in those rooms, he killed the two adults in each room, fifteen children in classroom 8 and five in classroom 10. All of the killings were done with the Bushmaster rifle.
He then took his own life with a single shot from a Glock 20, 10mm pistol in classroom 10.
Prior to going to the school, the shooter used a .22 caliber Savage Mark II rifle to shoot and kill his mother in her bed at the home where they lived at 36 Yagonanda Street in Newtown.
The other staff members and students of SHES were fortunate that Adam Lanza did not take the time to more thoroughly search the office, and that he chose not to enter any additional classrooms. Did he simply fail to see staff members hiding in the office, or did he have other priorities and knowing his time was limited, but having no real idea how quickly the police could respond, simply decide to move on to his primary objective? As horrifying as it is, simple chance, even whim, plays a significant role in who lives or dies in these crimes.
Much has been said about the weapons used in the crime. Here’s the truth:
The following weapons were recovered in the course of this investigation: (1) A Bushmaster Model XM15-E2s semi-automatic rifle, found in the same classroom as the shooter’s body. All of the 5.56 mm shell casings from the school that were tested were found to have been fired from this rifle. (2) A Glock 20, 10mm semi-automatic pistol found near the shooter’s body and determined to have been the source of the self-inflicted gunshot wound by which he took his own life. (3) a Sig Sauer P226, 9 mm semi-automatic pistol found on the shooter’s person. There is no evidence this weapon had been fired. (4) a Izhmash Saiga-12, 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun found in the shooter’s car in the parking lot outside the school, and which was secured in the vehicle’s trunk by police responding to the scene. There is no evidence this weapon had been fired. (5) a Savage Mark II rifle found at 36 Yagonanda Street on the floor of the master bedroom near the bed where the body of the shooter’s mother was found. This rifle also was found to have fired the four bullets recovered during the autopsy of the shooter’s mother.
All of the firearms were legally purchased by the shooter’s mother. Additionally, ammunition of the types found had been purchased by the mother in the past, and there is no evidence that the ammunition was purchased by anyone else, including the shooter.
There was also much speculation about other shooters, or perhaps others who in some way helped Lanza plan or carry out the killings. All is mistaken or false:
At the date of this writing, there is no evidence to suggest that anyone other than the shooter was aware of or involved in the planning and execution of the crimes that were committed on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School and 36 Yogananda Street. From the time an unknown male was encountered by the Newtown police outside of the school during the initial response, until well after the staff and children had been evacuated, the thought that there may have been more than one shooter was a condition all responding law enforcement worked under as they cleared the school. Individuals located in the wooded areas surrounding the school as the searches and evacuations were taking place were initially treated as suspect and handled accordingly (including being handcuffed) until their identity could be determined. The circumstances surrounding al of these individuals were fully investigated and revealed no additional shooters. DNA testing of evidence recovered from both the school and 36 Yogananda Street also revealed no potential accessories or co-conspirators.
The report states that Lanza committed 26 counts of “Murder Under Special Circumstances”–C.G.S. Sec. 52a-54b–for the 26 people he killed at SHES. He committed two counts of “Attempted Murder Under Special Circumstances–53a-49 and 53a-54b–for the two staff members he shot and wounded (both survived). He also committed “Murder”–53a-54–for the killing of his mother.
Lanza violated a number of lesser laws (including burglary)–Connecticut has more than its share of gun laws–but these are not listed until much later in the report.
One of the most frustrating issues is why? Why did Lanza choose Sandy Hook Elementary? Why that place, time, and those people? Why did he kill his mother? And was there any way to predict that he was going to commit these crimes? The Executive Summary:
The obvious question that remains is: ‘Why did the shooter murder twenty-seven people, including twenty children?’ Unfortunately, that question may never be answered conclusively [emphasis mine], despite the collection of extensive background information on the shooter through a multitude of interviews and other sources. The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life, but there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It is know that the shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close. As an adult he did not recognize or help himself deal with those issues. What contribution this made to the shootings, if any, is unknown as those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior [emphasis mine]. He had a familiarity with and access to firearms and ammunition and an obsession with mass murders, in particular the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Investigators however, have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime himself.
No evidence was ever found that Lanza was taking any medications that could have had any bearing on his actions. There is one significant note in the Executive Summary:
It should be noted that potentially important evidence, i.e., a computer hard drive recovered from the shooter’s home, as of this date remains unreadable. Additional insight could be gained should efforts to recover data from the hard drive ever prove successful, what at this time appears highly improbable.
The hard drive cannot be read because Lanza intentionally damaged it. Sedensky also “acknowledges and thanks law enforcement,” noting that they responded to the shooting “in minutes,” and entered knowing Lanza could be inside, ready to kill them. He also “acknowledges and thanks the staff of the Sandy Hook Elementary School who acted heroically. The combination saved many children’s lives.”
As a sentiment and matter of manners, this is honorable, but as a matter of fact and tactics, it is wrong and misleading. We cannot know with certainty that the principal and psychologist tried to attack Lanza, as has been widely suggested. In fact, the report suggests that both were shot and killed almost immediately after leaving a conference room and walking into the hallway where Lanza stood. We do know that everyone in the school was unarmed, a fact Lanza also surely knew. We cannot know with certainty that the principal and psychologist succeeded even in slowing Lanza for more than the mere seconds it took him to aim at and shoot them. We do know that the police, who in rushing into a building that might contain killers waiting to shoot them, were doing nothing more than we expect them to do and what they expect themselves to do. We also know that as is the case in virtually every school attack, the police had no actual role in stopping the shooter or saving lives. Lanza killed himself before the first officer set foot in the building. One can argue that knowing the police could be there at any moment, Lanza chose to kill himself rather than face them. Fortunately–and the horror of these situations is such that “fortunately,” while the correct word is terribly ironic–this is what most school shooters choose to do. However, he easily could have kept killing teachers and children until shot by responding police.
Please keep in mind that the photos I’m using are representative, not absolutely definitive. They are of the same make and model as the weapons Lanza used, but there are multiple variations in all of these weapons. For example, the Savage Mk II is a .22LR bolt–action rifle, but is manufactured in many configurations with various types of stocks (wooden, synthetic), barrels (heavy, stainless steel), and other accessories.
This is a Bushmaster XM-15 .223/5.56mm semi-automatic rifle. It is an AR-15 type carbine with a barrel slightly over 16” long and a collapsible stock. Standard capacity magazines for all such rifles and carbines are 30 rounds and have been since the Vietnam era. Such firearms are ubiquitous and very popular. It was this weapon that fired every round that wounded or killed a victim at SHES. Unlike careless–and some purposeful–media comments, this is not an “assault weapon,” or even the more correctly termed “assault rifle.” It is one variant of the most popular semi-automatic rifle in America, the AR-15 family. It is not a fully automatic rifle, and fires no more quickly than any semi-automatic firearm–a technology more than a century old–regardless of its outward appearance.
This is a Glock 20 pistol in 10mm. Its standard magazine capacity is 15 rounds. The 10mm cartridge is on the upper end of the power scale for non-hunting cartridges in semi-automatic pistols, but it too is a common caliber and the cartridge and handgun are in no way unusual. The .40 S&W cartridge is essentially a shortened 10mm. Two rounds were fired from this gun by Lanza, only one striking him in the head and killing him. The other round was not fired at a victim.
This is a Sig P226 in 9mm. Its standard magazine capacity is 15 rounds. It too is a very common handgun and caliber. This weapon was found on Lanza’s body and was not fired during the attack.
This is an Izmash Saiga-12 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun. Based on the Kalashnikov AK-47 design, it is a common and reliable shotgun. Five to eight round magazines are standard though slightly larger magazines are available. Lanza’s weapon was found in the passenger compartment of his vehicle. It was not fired during the attack.
This is a Savage MK II, 22LR bolt action rifle. This family of rifles is very common, with magazines of ten rounds standard. They are primarily useful for target shooting and hunting. It was this rifle Lanza used to murder his mother, shooting her in the head four times. He ejected the first three rounds, and left the fired brass in the chamber, dropping the weapon on the floor of his mother’s bedroom.
The weapons Lanza chose are suggestive of a significant degree of deliberation. The Savage MK II particularly suggests that Lanza not only had no hesitation in killing his mother, he wanted to do so deliberately and take some time. He shot his mother as she lay in bed, apparently asleep. After the first shot, Lanza would have to work the bolt to extract and eject the expended casing and chamber a fresh cartridge, once again take aim and fire. He would repeat this process four times. Each cycling of the bolt would take from 3-5 seconds, and give Lanza sufficient time to see the results of each shot. He could have chosen any of the semi-automatic weapons he eventually took to SHES, all of which would have made firing four bullets much faster and easier, but he chose to use the slowest and most labor intensive firearm, which he simply dropped to the floor when he was done.
Lanza was obsessive about his food, his clothing, and a variety of other factors of his life. It is possible he was equally obsessive about his choice of murder weapons, apparently considering the Savage inappropriate for killing anyone but his mother.
The Glock 20 is a relatively hard-recoiling handgun. Lanza was struck once in the head. The bullet that killed him continued upward into the ceiling of the school and was recovered in the ceiling of classroom 8, the classroom adjoining classroom 10. Three fragments from a second 10mm bullet were found in classroom 10, though the report does not specify where or what that bullet might have struck. This suggests two possibilities: (1) Lanza fired a hesitation shot. He tried to kill himself but flinched or otherwise pulled his shot, narrowly missing his head with the first shot. Gaining resolve, he was successful with the second. Or: (2) Lanza fired the first shot, which did strike his head, causing it to fall out of line or to the side (or both), and he reflexively and immediately fired the second shot as he was falling. Its fragmentation suggests it struck a solid, hard or massive object. Of these two possibilities, it’s hard to tell which is most likely. By choosing arguably the largest and most powerful cartridge for his suicide, one might argue that Lanza was demonstrating his resolve to kill himself. There could not be the slightest doubt that a solid shot to the head with this cartridge would kill him.
Lanza likely chose the Bushmaster because he was planning to shoot his way into the school if necessary, and expected that a rifle cartridge would be more effective. He also likely chose it because if would be necessary to reload less often. One might suggest that Lanza chose a rifle rather than a handgun because it would be inherently more accurate, but his marksmanship in the school was anything but exemplary.
Lanza fired eight rounds to shoot his way into the building and 16 in the lobby area, at least five of those killed two people and wounded two others. Eleven bullet holes were found in furniture and walls. In the area of a window in classroom 10 there were at least nine bullet holes. Forty-nine expended rounds of .5.56mm brass were recovered from classroom 10. At least five of those rounds struck three vehicles in the parking lot. In classroom 8, eighty rounds of expended brass were found (Lanza’s body was found in classroom 10).
The media have made much of Lanza’s mother taking him shooting. To whatever degree she was successful, his marksmanship did not reveal a high degree of shooting skill. We do not know precisely how many rounds struck each victim (the report doesn’t go into that level of detail), but it is clear that Lanza frequently missed, and at very close range for any carbine. The other possibility is that at least some rounds fully penetrated victims and struck the interior walls and other furnishings, but the report does not address this issue.
The media and anti-gun forces have also made much of the standard 30 round magazines Lanza used, suggesting that if he were limited to 10 or 15 round magazines, he would not have been able to kill so many. This is nonsense.
While it is true that 30 round standard magazines are more convenient, magazine changes take only a few seconds, and experts can do it in one. Given the police response and the time available to Lanza, a few magazine changes would have made no difference in the final outcome. Lanza even had two magazines taped end to end. Those who have watched too much television think this makes for faster magazine changes, but in reality, properly carried magazines are faster to change. However, it does indicate that Lanza intended to change magazines as quickly and conveniently as possible.
Lanza did not intend to run out of ammunition. Two-hundred-fifty-three live rounds were found on his body: one-hundred-sixteen 9mm rounds, sixty-one 5.56mm rounds, seventy-five 10mm rounds and one shotgun shell.
One live 5.56mm round was found on the floor of classroom 8, suggesting Lanza had a momentary malfunction which he was able to clear, or clumsily ejected it when changing magazines.
Part two of this article, which I’ll post on December 14, will deal primarily with background issues. I hope to see you there.