The Shadow of Sandy Hook: School Security Part II

Updated on October 12, 2017
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Registered Architect, 40 years experience, State Agency Architect overseeing public school construction & recognized security specialist.

Those Lost at Sandy Hook

Review of the Previous Part

There will always be events that will have such a strong impact on our lives that we will always remember exactly where we were and what we were doing the very moment we got that news. One such event was December 14, 2012, when 20 young lives, and six adults were murdered in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On that day, a little more of our American innocence was taken away by such an evil and heinous act.

A great national debate started as memories of past school shootings were drudged up, Virginia Tech University, Columbine, and many others. What could we learn from such a tragedy? What solutions are there? “Run, Hide, Fight”, ALICE, SRP, SRM, and many others offer preparedness solutions. What was best? What else could be done?

Nestled in the woods, Sandy Hook Elementary would become the focus of the unthinkable. A school that should have been “secured” was the site of a forced breech by a gunman, carrying an unthinkable amount of firepower hell bent on creating something that would go down in infamy. Natural light passed into the classrooms through large windows. Inviting windows, made of laminated glass, surrounded the entry into the school. A homey, warm, welcoming environment to all, visitors, community, parents, staff and students. Yet these attributes all became weaknesses as an evildoer decided to go down in history much like the shooters at Columbine and Virginia Tech.

When it comes to windows, “bulletproof” does not exist, only bullet resistive is obtainable, which means that all glass will be breeched at some point. These windows can be reinforced to help provide an impedance for such potential perpetrators with hurricane films. This is a very inexpensive alternative to “bulletproof” glass. Leaving the question, where is a safe haven? How do we protect our children while they learn?

Continuing: The Gunman’s Entrance

In the last part, we were introduced to the school and the forced breech of the gunman, we continue now into the events after the gunman gained his forced entrance into Sandy Hook that fateful day in December 2012. The goal of this analysis is to see if similarities or tendencies exist in the actions of these people and if an activities profile can be established for shooters like this and others. Do these individuals, and similar types, have tendencies that are held in common? If so, can we identify what they are, and thereby create a protective counter to those tendencies? Or do we have to mount a defense against every conceivable possibility?

After shooting out the sidelight of the school entrance, the shooter walked through the opening he made in the shot-out window. He then started to move through the school. We will look at a location by location movement as he made his trek through Sandy Hook, but first let us look at what the typical Sandy Hook classroom door looked like as he made his way into the corridors of the school.

Sandy Hook, Typical Classroom Door
Sandy Hook, Typical Classroom Door

We should notice that these doors have small vision panels in them. This is good, because they block external view and allot many hiding places in the room not readily visible to an intruder. However, this feature is only useful when the door can be locked. This lock MUST be operable from inside the room. Many classroom doors in schools that I visit are only lockable when the key is inserted from the outside of the classroom. Not good when an armed intruder is walking down the hall. While changing these locks are a sizable initial cost, it is cheap insurance for the protection of society’s most valuable asset, our children.

Sandy Hook’s Floor Plan

The next picture is the floor plan of Sandy Hook. The arrows represent the doors that allow entrance to the building. The green arrow is the only entrance to the school once the bell is sounded in the morning. The other doors are used for movement into and out of the building before the morning bell, and after the last bell. After that, they are locked and controlled access. Prior to December 14, 2012, this would have been viewed as a secured school.

Sandy Hook, Floor Plan
Sandy Hook, Floor Plan

The Timeline

As we embark on examining the timeline next, something must be placed in everyone’s mind. When constructing “after the event” timelines, one will discover how witnesses may not have necessarily “seen” things the same, even when looking at the same event. The thought that I am referring to is the concept that what is perceived by one individual in an event will not be perceived in the exact same manner as another person. For instance, time may not be seen equally by all witnesses. For instance, what one person may see as 9:00, another may see as 9:02 or 8:59. You may notice this as the official timeline unfolds as we look at the events at Sandy Hook. The timeline that we will look at here is the timeline as it was reported in the State’s report, and all times are noted as local time.

The first shots fired was fired at 9:34 AM. These would have been the eight shots fired at the front entrance side light causing the breech the shooter used to enter the school. A parent reported seeing nine students from classroom 10 running in front of the school at 9:35 AM. While seeing the students is undoubting, the time of 9:35 AM may be problematic when we correlate the shooter’s movements with that exact time. The reported timing might have caused the shooter and these nine students to possibly cross paths which would, more than likely, have had a different result. That, however, is a very minor point. The point is that at some time nine students were found in the front of the school.

Sandy Hook, Office Plan
Sandy Hook, Office Plan

At 9:35:39 AM, the first 911 call is recorded after the shooter left the office (blue circle) and the person making that call was in the nurse’s office (red square) situated immediately behind the office. Gunfire stops at 9:38 AM, presumably as the shooter changes classrooms, resuming again at 9:39 AM. The final shot is heard at 9:40:03 AM and is the presumed suicide shot by the shooter. Total elapsed time is only SIX MINUTES!!!!

Six minutes does not sound like a long time, but surprise and speed are shooters’ allies in active shooting events. These events are over very quickly, often before law enforcement can arrive. The key to survival is to plan and know what to do. Do not try to think up a response as an event unfolds. Emergency Response Plans (ERP) must be developed prior to an event. They must be trained and practiced regularly if they are to have meaning in any event. I have heard numerous times, through multiple sources that a dollar spent in preparation of these events saves four dollars in mitigation after an event. Like any insurance premium, you are not spending the money now, you are saving money in the case of an actual event. Here is where you gain the real value of implementing something like the SRP and SRM programs. Savings in potentially less trauma for the student, and less anxiety for parents and loved ones of those students. The real value is seen here for such expenditures on a mass notification system. Zoned response in that mass notification system becomes potentially valuable beyond expectation. Fire drills are often practiced, but how often do schools practice for an active shooter, hazardous materials spill, or natural disaster? All of these need to be integrated into a school’s ERP.

The Shooter's Movements
The Shooter's Movements

The Shooter’s Movements

The above picture will provide a map of the following movements of the shooter as the six minutes of hell begins. The exact order of some events is unclear so the order as discussed here may not represent the actual order of the events on that December morning.

The start point of the shooter’s movements is at the gray arrow, the point of breech as discussed previously. At the time of the first shots, a meeting was being held with the Principal, Dawn Hochsprung, school Psychologist, Mary Sherlach, and two other adults in a conference room. In reaction to the sounds heard, the Principal and Psychologist exit the conference room to investigate, where they both were killed (red hearts) in the hallway outside the door, the first victims at Sandy Hook. Another staffer was behind them and was shot in the leg and received one other gunshot wound. The staffer crawled back into the room and held the door shut. At the east end of the hallway, another adult was injured by a gunshot to the foot and retreated to a classroom.

The shooter then went into the office (green arrow) where it was reported he took a few steps in allowing the door to shut behind him, and then turns and leaves the office. Everyone in the office was hidden from view, so the shooter had no readily visible targets, leaving the area. The order of events from this point forward can only be speculated.

After leaving the office, the shooter walks right past Room 12 on his left, for some unknown reason, yet fails to attempt to enter Room 12. The teacher’s keys and ID was on the desk in the front of Room 12 and the door was unlocked. After the report was published, I had the opportunity to speak to the State’s Attorney, Mr. Stephen J. Sedensky III, who graciously gave me time on a couple phone calls to answer my questions. I had specifically inquired if there were any of the shooter’s fingerprints on the door to Room 12, which he could not say to his knowledge that there were any fingerprints from the shooter on the door.

According to the timeline in the State’s Attorney Report, there was only one break in the shooting, from 9:38 AM to 9:39 AM and as no one knows for sure what the shooter did next. However, it is my belief that the shooter may have continued down the hallway passed Room 10 and entered Room 12 (dark blue triangle) where 15 children and two adults were murdered. One child survived and exited the room after police arrived. After shooting everyone in this room, it is my belief, the shooter exited and went back to Room 10 that he had passed, causing the recorded break in shooting, then resumed shooting in Room 10, where five children and two adults were murdered, and nine children survived, two from inside the classroom’s restroom, and nine that fled the classroom and were the children reported in front of the school. Classroom 10 is where on brave teacher worked, Victoria Soto, and is credited with helping nine young lives to survive this massacre, at the cost of her own life. Since the shooter’s body (X on the map) was found in that room, it might be assumed that he came to this room last.

Again, nothing is certain when it comes to the order of events at this time in the event, but the timeline does not necessarily lend itself well to the thought that the shooter went to Room 10 first, then to Room 8, and back to Room 10 to commit suicide. I would think that the shooter going to Room 8 first is what provided enough time for Victoria Soto to protect nine precious lives. This is not to say for certain these were the events that fateful morning, only that it is a possible scenario for the reported facts.

At this point questions become apparent, which may never be answered, but the doors leading to the adjacent classrooms (yellow circles) Room 8 / Room 6 and Room 10 / Room 12 were never used by the shooter. The shooter chose to go to two rooms that made him exit into the hallway and walk several feet before entering the next room. The shooter stayed relatively close to the door and not enter very deeply into the classroom. That does not seem to be in alignment with a goal of maximized body count. Why waste the time? Did he think he would have more time? What was he thinking?

The State’s Attorney Report makes it clear that the first officer on scene came at 9:39 AM, some four minutes after the first shots were fired and a minute-three seconds before the final shot, the presumed suicide shot. Total lost in the time between 9:34 AM and 9:40:03 AM, 26 dead, 20 children and six adults, six minutes elapsed time for the entire event.

Looking Forward to Next Part

The data from a single event CANNOT contain enough information to begin to form a reliable response plan, but it can however be a very solid starting point. As I assembled this data over almost a year, I talked about two previous mass school shootings that started to be enveloped into the discussion, Columbine and Virginia Tech University. I had distant memories of some things I heard from when those events took place, but these discussions gave me an almost déjà vu feeling. So, I began to grab data on those two events as well. In the next part of this series, that data will be looked at. Similar patterns may start to emerge, and these patterns may be the foundation for planning defensive actions.

© 2017 Dan Demland

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