HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy broke down and wiped away tears Monday as he recalled informing agonized parents of students at Sandy Hook Elementary School that their children would not be returning.
Asked at a state Capitol press conference about the Friday episode, Malloy said that he had been meeting that afternoon with family members at a firehouse near the school when it became clear that a number of them still did not know, about five hours after the mass shootings, that their children had been killed.
In all, 20 first-graders and six adults at the school were shot to death with a semiautomatic assault rifle by 20-year-old Adam Lanza shortly after 9:30 a.m. Friday.
As he spoke, Malloy's normal businesslike manner evaporated. His voice grew shaky, then choked, and his words were broken by pauses lasting several seconds.
"It was evident to me that there was a reluctance to tell parents and loved ones … that the person that they were waiting for was not going to return ... and that had gone on for a period of time," Malloy said, coughing quietly to clear his throat.
"I made the decision that to have that [uncertainty] go on any longer was wrong."
It was a stark departure from a demeanor that exudes confidence, approaches brusqueness and eschews emotional displays.
Malloy's senior adviser, Roy Occhiogrosso, was asked later if he had ever seen such a response from the hardened political veteran who previously served as a Brooklyn, N.Y., prosecutor and big-city mayor.
"I've never seen him have to tell people that their children were dead," Occhiogrosso said. "Think about what he had to do. It's not nearly as bad as being the parent who had to hear it, but it's not an easy thing to do."
Starting shortly before 1 p.m. Friday, Malloy and Occhiogrosso were at the firehouse down the road from the school, along with the parents of at least 18 of the children who had died.
"As time went on, it was clear at least a few of them thought that there was some chance that their child might be alive" — perhaps "being treated at hospital en route or at the hospital," Occhiogrosso said. "There was clearly some sense of confusion as to whether that was true. ... That went on for a little while."
By about 3 p.m., "it became clear" that no surviving children were being treated, and Malloy verified that information with the commander of the state police, Col. Danny Stebbins, who was standing in the firehouse.
"The people clearly wanted information," Occhiogrosso said, and "one gentleman finally said, 'Will you please just tell us what's going on?'"
"It was at that point that the governor made clear that if their child wasn't with them … they wouldn't be cominghome. There was a range of reaction. … Some people collapsed on the floor. Some people screamed. It was a horrific scene."
Malloy explained his decision to inform the parents by saying that their suspense "had gone on for a period of time well after there was any expectancy that families would be reunited."
"So I made a decision that rather than relying on traditional investigative policies — that you actually have a child or an adult identified as the particular victim before you inform someone, or at least give them the information by which they could formulate for themselves that their loved one was not going to return — I made the decision that to have that go on any longer … was wrong."
Earlier Monday, Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman had each attended a funeral of a young shooting victim — the governor at Noah Pozner's funeral in Fairfield and Wyman at Jack Pinto's in Newtown. Asked if he planned to attend all the victims' funerals, Malloy said that, barring conflicts like on Monday's, he would try.
"Today … for instance, there were two funerals at the same time ... so I don't think I'm going to all of them," Malloy said. "But I think one of us" — either he or Wyman — "one of us will do our utmost to attend any funeral that we're welcome at."
"There are really no words to describe what it's like to see these parents as I did on Friday, last night going from room to room [in the company of President Barack Obama, who visited Newtown], and then again with respect to Noah's parents today," Malloy said. "It's tough to see relatives and friends of these little children who died, and as well as to see some of the teachers who have been so adversely impacted."
"The reality with respect to the relatives is you try to feel their pain, but you can't. You try to find some words that you hope will be adequate, knowing that they'll be inadequate," he said. "And you see little coffins and your heart has to ache.''Copyright © 2015, CT Now