In Newtown, first responders struggle to rebuild

Police officers are now facing the aftermath of one of the worst school massacres in our nation's history

Topics: Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting, Gun Violence, PTSD, School shooting, Violence, ,

In Newtown, first responders struggle to rebuild(Credit: Reuters/Adrees Latif)

As the families of the 20 children and 6 adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary mourn, and the debate over gun control rages on, the first responders of Newtown are also struggling in the aftermath of one of the worst school massacres in our nation’s history.

Seven police officers spoke with Ray Rivera of the New York Times to share a heartbreaking and sobering account of that fateful day, and the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder for those who witness horrific violence in the line of duty.

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” Michael McGowan, one of the first to arrive at the school, told the Times.

As the officers recount the gruesome details of December 14, they also paint a picture of tremendous bravery, of young officers — also fathers — using their most soothing daddy voice to coax traumatized children out of their classrooms and standing to form a human curtain around the bodies of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist, to shield them from the children’s view.

You Might Also Like

After evacuating the survivors to safety, the long process of recovery began. For the children, teachers and the officers themselves.

As officer Tom Bean told the Times, after he left the building that day, he paused to call his wife in the parking lot. “That’s when I broke down in tears, crying,” he said. More than a month later, the officers continue to have flashbacks, some struggling just to do their jobs and resume their daily lives:

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

One officer, unable to return to work and needing medication to sleep, has received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nationwide, it’s estimated as many as 18 percent of police are suffering from PTSD, but it remains a stigmatized diagnosis with very few resources available for police officers. In fact, post-traumatic stress disorder was not covered by worker’s compensation under Newtown’s statute at the time of the shooting, leaving many officers without sufficient support.

Local officials, state legislators and the governor’s office are currently working to change the law to provide for emotional trauma benefits and allow police officers to take more time to recover.

Detective Jason Frank spent days collecting evidence at the school turned crime scene, and the images continue to haunt him. Not just of the children, as the Times reports, but of “the monster-truck backpack he found that was identical to his 6-year-old’s. The Christmas ornaments that sat unfinished, drying on the windowsill.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “These kids will never take those ornaments home to their parents.”

 

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>