By Richard Weizel
HARTFORD Conn. (Reuters) - Parents of some of the 20 first graders shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School told a gubernatorial commission on Friday there were “serious miscommunications” among local, state and federal authorities during the 2012 attack and in its aftermath.
The massacre of 26 people at the Newtown, Connecticut school, where the lone gunman Adam Lanza, 20, killed himself as police approached, was one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. He had killed his mother before traveling to the school.
“It was chaotic, there was confusion and it was agonizing for parents not to know what was happening for long periods of time,” said David Wheeler, father of six-year-old Ben Wheeler, who was among the victims.
He spoke by teleconference to the Sandy Hook School Advisory Commission, a 16-member panel of experts created by Governor Dannel Malloy to review current policy and make recommendations about school safety, mental health, and gun violence prevention.
Wheeler and his wife Francine told the panel that it was only after state police became involved that they learned their son had been killed. Other families spent torturous hours fearing the worst before learning their children had survived, they said.
The Board of Education, they said, failed to reach out to them until a week after the shootings, and crisis counselors assigned to help offered little comfort.
“Some of the people trying to help us were so distraught themselves that we ended up consoling them,” David Wheeler said.
Another parent, Michele Gay, said her seven-year-old daughter Josephine Gay died while hiding in a bathroom along with more than a dozen other students because the substitute teacher did not have a key to lock her classroom.
“There is a dire need to make changes that, had they been in place on Dec. 14, could have prevented or at the very least greatly minimized the tragedy,” Gay told the commission. “All staff members, including substitute teachers and other personnel, must have keys and full training about how to handle these kinds of sudden crisis.”
Gay, who has become a school safety activist, said Lanza was able to "shoot his way in and easily gain access to the principal’s office and classrooms. ... We need to do everything we can to deter, delay and prevent that from happening through the use of double door vestibules, improved windows, and better training.”
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and David Gregorio)