The first article in this three part series, “The Realities and Legacy of Newtown, Part 1,” focused on reintroducing the reader to the events of 12-14-12, and explained the truth about the weapons used–few–and not used–most. This article will focus on the time frame and other facts not previously released to the public.
In reading this map of Sandy Hook Elementary School, remember that all of the shooting was confined to the colored areas, and the solid gray hallway area, oriented essentially east/west:
Solid Gray: Hallway. The Principal, School Psychologist and two other school staff stepped into the hallway upon hearing the shooting and were immediately shot.
Blue: The lobby area of the school.
Red: Classroom 10, First Grade.
Green: Classroom 8, first Grade.
This representation (credit: CNN.com) of the school might also help to orient readers. Maps are normally printed with north to the top. In this representation–for layout purposes–north is toward the bottom right.
Quoting from the executive summary of the State’s Attorney’s report (PDF available here) in part one of this series, I wrote:
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.
The Time Frame:
Based on the previously best available information, I’ve been writing that Lanza had five minutes to kill before shooting himself. He had slightly more than twice that long. Following is the time frame provided in the report. Keep in mind that Lanza began his assault at 0930:
9:35:39 – First 911 call to Newtown Police Department is received.
9:36:06 – Newtown Police Department dispatcher broadcasts that there is a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
9:37:38 – Connecticut State Police are dispatched to SHES for active shooter.
9:38:50 – SCP are informed that SHES is in lockdown.
9:39:00 – First Newtown police officer arrives behind SHES on Crestwood Rd.
9:39:13 – Two more Newtown officers arrive at SHES and park on the driveway near the ball field. Gunshots are heard in the background.
9:39-34 – Newtown Officer encounters unknown male running along the east side of the SHES with something in his hand.
9:40:03 – Last gunshot is heard. This is believed to be the final suicide shot from the shooter in classroom 10.
9:41:07 – Information is relayed as to the location of the last known gunshots heard within SHES, the front of the building.
9:41:24 – Newtown officer has unknown male prone on ground, starting information relay regarding possibly more than one shooter.
9:42:39 – Newtown officer calls out the license plate of the shooter’s car.
9:44:47 – Newtown officers enter SHES.
9:46:23 – CSP arrive at SHES.
9:46:48 – CSP enter SHES.
As the gravity of the situation became known, local, state and federal agencies responded to the scene to assist.
Time Frame Analysis:
This time frame reveals precisely the kind of police behavior–and limitations–one expects in active shooter situations. At about 0930, Lanza began shooting his way into the locked school. This took only a matter of seconds and several rounds of ammunition. Despite the fact that the school secretary had a video monitor of the front door area at her desk (this was the only scene the school’s video system was capable of displaying), no one called 911 until 9:35:39, five minutes into the attack. By then, the principal, school psychologist, and two other staff members had been killed or wounded, and Lanza had already begun killing children in classroom 8 (green) or 10 (red), probably 8 first and 10 last. The exact sequence is unknown, but Lanza shot himself in classroom 10.
The first Newtown officer didn’t arrive until 9:39.00, nine minutes into the attack, and two more arrived 13 seconds later. They did not immediately enter the school, in fact, they would not enter until 9:44:47, nearly 15 minutes after the attack began and nearly six minutes after the first officer arrived. By then, Lanza was dead, having shot himself at 9:40:03. He limited himself to ten minutes of murder, but could have had at least five more minutes if he chose, and then might have added a few police officers to his body count. Connecticut State Patrol officers did not enter the building until 9:46:48, two minutes after Newtown officers and nearly 17 minutes after the attack began.
In any school attack, the police have significant disadvantages. Few, if any of them, are familiar with the layout of any school in their community. Even if a dispatcher is eventually able to give them a room number, or even a portion of a building based on a compass direction, that will mean little or nothing to them in relation to where they are able to enter the building. Some police agencies train in school buildings, but virtually never train in them all, and even if they did, few officers would remember enough to be oriented in responding to any given building. Some police agencies have paper or computer maps of schools in their vehicles, but stopping to read and understand them adds time to their response.
The current police response model calls for the first responding officer to immediately enter the school, seek out and engage any shooter(s). But officers are often met with locked doors, or enter buildings that are essentially mazes to them only to hear gunshots echoing through hard tiled and concrete or brick hallways, making the location of the shooter difficult to discern. In this case, finding someone outside the building, the first officer was obligated to clear him, to figure out whether he had anything to do with the shooting or was a danger in any other way. That officer also had to find out if the man was a witness or had information that could help him stop the shooter. The mere act of finding that man immediately upon arriving had the effect of slowing all of the officers as they then believed that there was likely more than one shooter. Such is the fog of war.
In fact, officers were required to detain and question at least four people found outside the building. The initial person confronted by the first officer was actually a parent with a cell phone in his hand (he’s lucky to be alive). There were also two reporters found in the woods surrounding the school and a curious bystander from out of town working in the area. All were held at gunpoint and/or handcuffed, encumbering police manpower, until they could be cleared.
Officers know that if they rush into an active shooter situation without any real idea how many shooters are present, where they are, how they’re armed and what they’re doing, they might well end up shot and no good to anyone. Yet, they have no real choice. Every second means lost lives. Keep in mind, however, that not every American police force has adopted the most modern procedures for active shooter response. Not every agency has trained, prepared maps for patrol vehicles, or in any real way made effective plans.
As in virtually every active shooter attack, the police had no active role in stopping the shooter. Surely Lanza expected the police to eventually arrive, but he chose the time and manner of his death, and the end of the attack, which lasted just a bit more than ten minutes.
There are a variety of things we’ll never know with certainty, such as the exact positions of expended cartridges, the angles of shots made by Lanza (did he make multiple misses or are some bullet impacts in furniture, windows and walls the result of bullets that passed entirely through victims?), and a variety of other factors because the first officers on the scene had to clear the building and ensure the danger was over. This included evacuating the building as sections were cleared. Then they had to tend to the injured (several children were taken to hospitals but didn’t survive), including two teachers that did survive, and finally, deal with preservation of evidence.
In dealing with the first priorities, officers, medical personnel, and others surely moved or destroyed evidence, making it impossible to reconstruct the scene with complete accuracy. This is not a sign of incompetence, but is to be expected in these situations with multiple, competing priorities.
Lanza dressed as a wanna-be commando:
He was wearing a pale green pocket vest over a black polo style short sleeve shirt over a black t-shirt. He had yellow colored earplugs in each ear. He was wearing black cargo pocket pants, black socks, black sneakers, a black canvas belt and black fingerless gloves on each hand. He had an empty camouflage drop holster that was affixed to his right thigh.
There is no question that Adam Lanza had “issues.” He was, by any analysis, maladjusted and anti-social, even interacting poorly and sparingly with his mother. The last several months of their lives, they communicated only by e-mail while living in the same home. He allowed no one to enter his room, not even his mother, and taped black plastic trash bags over his windows and over the windows of the family computer room.
Lanza apparently played a variety of common, popular shoot-‘em-up video games, but was also very fond of a dancing game called “Dance Dance Revolution.”
From the report:
While the vast majority of person interviewed had no explanation for the shooter’s actions, a review of the electronic evidence or digital media that appeared to belong to the shooter revealed that the shooter had a preoccupation with mass shootings, in particular the Columbine shootings and a strong interest in firearms. For example, there was a spreadsheet with mass murders over the years listing information about each shooting.
Lanza also had “two videos showing suicide by gunshot,” “commercial movies depicting mass shootings,” The computer game titled ‘School Shooting’ where the player controls a character who enters a school and shoots at students,” “images of the shooter holding a handgun to his head,” and a “five-second video (dramatization) depicting children being shot.” He also had comedy videos, music, images of Lego creations and images of hamsters.
Lanza e-mailed others that shared his interest in mass shootings, but none of the e-mails indicated any interest in SHES or any interest in committing a mass shooting.
Lanza did not like leaving his home, and during Hurricane Sandy, when his home was without power, refused to go to a hotel.
The media have labored to suggest some connection with SHES by either Lanza or his mother, but there is none. Lanza did attend that school as a child, but neither his mother nor he had any continuing relationship with the school or anyone working there thereafter. The report notes:
There is no clear indication why Sandy Hook Elementary School was selected, other than perhaps its close proximity to the shooter’s home.
It does not take too much intuition to suspect that his familiarity with the school–it was built in 1954 and apparently little changed over the years–might also have been a factor in his choice.
It was abundantly clear Lanza was a “troubled” young man, even as his condition did not point to his eventual murderous actions. From the report:
More generally, those who knew the shooter describe him in contradictory ways. He was undoubtedly afflicted with mental health problems; yet despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies. In some contexts he was viewed as having above-average intelligence; in others, below-average. Some recalled that the shooter had been bullied; but others–including many teachers–saw nothing of the sort. With some people he could talk with them and be humorous; but many others saw the shooter as unemotional, distant, and remote.
Interestingly, a friend of Lanza’s from 2011-2012 said Lanza never spoke of being bullied and never spoke of anything that might tip anyone off to his eventual attack at SHES.
Lanza routinely changed clothing several times during each day, and disliked birthdays and all holidays, including Christmas. He wouldn’t let his mother erect a Christmas tree, which she explained “by saying the shooter had no emotions or feelings.” He was extremely picky about his food, how it was arranged on a plate, and even which plates were used to serve different foods.
In high school, Lanza was withdrawn. He rarely interacted with others and had poor social skills. He is not remembered as having ever initiated or even talked about violence. He was a member of the school “tech” club and even threw a party for the club at his home in 2008.
Lanza did have substantial mental health and behavioral testing over the years, and Asperger’s, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder and other problems were diagnosed. He was thought to be, at various times and with various tests, below average, average or above average in intelligence. A number of medications and behavior therapies were prescribed, but he refused them all.
Readers interested in Lanza’s pathologies can read the entire report, but this paragraph sums up well:
It is important to note that it is unknown, what contribution, if any, the shooter’s mental health issues made to his attack on SHES. Those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior.
The School Building:
Sandy Hook Elementary School was a common, one-story, brick elementary school in every respect; it was–the school was demolished in October and November, 2013–having been built in 1954, not designed for security as most schools are not today, though it did have some security upgrades common in contemporary schools.
The main entrance featured two full glass doors with a large glass window immediately adjacent them (to the right). The doors had a remotely controlled electronic lock activated by school secretaries in the office. As with all school doors, crash bars were inside to allow people inside the building to get out in case of fire. A video camera watched the front door and a call box was affixed near the door. The video feed was not recordable, and displayed only on three monitors on the desks of secretaries in the office. The report does not specifically speak to this issue, but the fact of the three monitors and the physical layout of the school indicatess that not all of the secretaries had a direct line of sight to the front doors.
Lanza shot out the glass window next to the doors. He stepped through the large hole in the window his bullets made, though he could easily have chosen to shoot the glass doors and press the crash bars.
From the lobby area, Lanza had a clear view down two hallways, the west hallway directly in front of him and the north hallway immediately to his left. The north hallway, in which most of the shooting occurred, was 8.5 feet wide and 8 feet high. All classroom doors were key locked from the outside–hallway side-only. There were no locking mechanisms inside the classrooms. All doors were wood with a circular window in the upper half of each door. Each classroom had a non-locking closet and a restroom with an interior lock. Both classrooms involved had a phone that could be used to communicate with the office and the building had a common, centralized PA system for announcements that did not allow two-way communication.
Like virtually all school buildings, gaining entry presents only a momentary problem for a school shooter. Virtually any school door can be breached in seconds by breaking a window in or near the door and activating a crash bar, or by simply prying a door open with nothing more dangerous or high-tech than a crowbar. In this case, Lanza expended a few rounds of ammunition to achieve entry, an act that took no more than 5-10 seconds.
Once inside, Lanza had an unrestricted view down two long, narrow hallways. Anyone in those hallways had no cover or concealment and could be easily shot. This was the case with the Principal, Mrs. Hochsprung and the School Psychologist, Mrs. Sherlach. Both stepped into the north hallway from the conference room (yellow) in response to the shooting and were likely immediately shot and killed. In short order, two other teachers stepped into or partially into the same hallway and were shot and wounded, immediately retreating back into their rooms. The two victims closest to Lanza–Hochspring and Sherlach–were immediately fatally struck, while the two others, one substantially farther away, did not suffer mortal wounds. One, in fact, was hit only in the foot, which suggests that Lanza’s marksmanship was more random than sure.
After shooting these four staff members, Lanza immediately entered either classroom 10 (red) or classroom 8 (green). It’s possible he entered classroom 8 first, and finishing there, entered classroom 10 where he soon shot himself. To do otherwise would have required him to first enter classroom 10, then 8, then return to 10 to kill himself. This does, however, remain possible.
Because the classroom doors were unlocked, Lanza needed only to walk in. Even locked, however, the classroom doors could have been easily breached by the methods I’ve previously mentioned.
Once inside each classroom, Lanza could have discovered anyone hiding inside the closets by simply opening the doors, and the bathroom doors–though lockable from the inside–could have been easily breached, or he could have wounded or killed people inside by firing through the door.
As with virtually every school in America, there was no security measure, no feature of the architectural design of the school that was in favor of the students or staff. Everything favored the shooter and assisted him–or at the very least only minimally impeded him–in carrying out his attack.
As is virtually always the case, the shooter determined the timing and deadliness of the attack. School staff were completely unarmed and had no opportunity to try to use so much as a stapler to resist Lanza. Though his marksmanship was apparently iffy, it was sufficiently accurate to immediately kill two staff members and wound two others at greater distances. The police had no active role in influencing or stopping the shooter.
Despite a lifetime of strange and notable behavior, despite multiple encounters with psychologists and many and various tests, there was not the slightest indication that Lanza was violent or was about to carry out any kind of attack, let alone the specific attack at Sandy Hook Elementary. No known or proposed mental health law likely could or would have flagged Lanza as a danger, nor would it have rendered him legally ineligible to own or handle firearms. Of course, those contemplating mass murder will hardly be deterred by the possibility of prosecution on lesser charges, particularly if they plan suicide as the culmination of their attack. Logic–and practical experience–makes this unmistakably clear.
The officers did what they could, but the two most important factors in police response to school attacks thwarted them: time and distance. The first 911 call wasn’t received until five minutes and 39 seconds after Lanza began his attack, and the first radio call to officers wasn’t sent for another 27 seconds, six minutes and six seconds after the attack began. By then, Lanza had killed many. And despite arriving within three minutes and 21 seconds–nine minutes after the attack began–officers didn’t enter the building until eight minutes and 41 seconds after receiving the first radio call, some 14 minutes and forty seven seconds after the attack began. By then, all of the children and adults shot (with two exceptions) were dead or dying and Lanza shot himself four minutes and 44 seconds earlier.
Any school shooter anywhere can expect similarly favorable circumstances. The report does not suggest even general changes in law, security or procedure that would have altered the outcome of the Sandy Hook attack or that would aid the victims in any future attack. Doubtless, that was not the purpose of the report, but the fact remains that its author could suggest little–particularly if political correctness was in part a concern–to help.
Political correctness is not my concern, and I can suggest things that will help deter future attacks and stop them when they occur, and will do so in the final article in this three part series, to be posted on or about Saturday, 12-22-13. I hope to see you then.