Tuesday’s edition of the New York Times features a lingering piece about the untold victims of the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School: the first responders.
Seven Newtown police officers, who were among the first to arrive at the scene of the horrible aftermath, describe their experiences upon arriving at the scene, as well as grappling with paralyzing post traumatic stress disorder symptoms in the days and weeks following the massacre.
“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Officer Michael McGowan, one of the police officers who was first to arrive at the scene.
The first officers arrived within three minutes of the 911 call, and still could hear gun shots within the school as they arrived.
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“I got out of the car and grabbed my rifle and it stopped for second,” Officer William Chapman told the Times. “But then we heard more popping. You could tell it was rifle fire. And it was up so close, it sounded like it was coming from outside. So we were all looking around for someone to shoot back at.”
Entering into the lobby, the officers first saw two women lying lifeless on the floor, unsure about the whereabouts of the shooter.
“You saw them lifeless, laying down,” Officer Leonard Penna, a school resource officer, recalled. “For a split second, your mind says could this be a mock crime scene, could this be fake, but in the next split second, you’re saying, there is no way. This is real.”
Officers swept the hallway until converging at a classroom where they found Adam Lanza dead amid the bodies of other children and adults.
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Searching through the bodies, Officer Chapman found a little girl with a weak pulse and swiftly picked her up and ran with her outside, telling her, “You’re safe now; your parents love you,” but she died soon after.
Once the officers cleared the building of any other shooters, they began to coax other students and teachers from closets and locked rooms, who were refusing to open up.
“We’re kicking the doors, yelling ‘Police! Police!’ ” Officer McGowan said. “We were ripping our badges off and putting them up to the window.”
The officers, many of whom were fathers themselves, reassured the kids and told them to close their eyes, attempting to form a human wall between the kids and the dead bodies as they evacuated the school.
Though the officers were reluctant to compare their trauma with the parents of the victims, many have experienced emotional agony remembering the details of that day.
One officer, Officer Tom Bean, has been unable to return to work due to PTSD symptoms, and like many other officers, worries about the effect the trauma will have on performing his duties, according to the New York Times.
“Our concern from the beginning has been the effects of PTSD,” said Eric Brown, a union lawyer representing the Newtown police. “We estimate it is probably going to be 12 to 15 Newtown officers who are going to be dealing with that, for the remainder of their careers, we imagine, from what we’ve been told by professionals who deal with PTSD.”