Inside Sandy Hook School, Wrenching Tales Of Heroism

Teacher Kaitlin Roig hid her first-grade class in a closet during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (Reuters)

Chapman wrote that it appeared the teachers — Rousseau and special education aide Rachel D'Avino — "were actively trying to protect the children at all costs." But they died trying. And the image of the children in the bathroom, Chapman wrote, "was the most horrific thing that I had ever seen."

Chapman then seized on the idea that there must be a survivor. "I remember thinking 'someone has to be alive, the shooter is down, it's time to get people out of here.'"

He returned to Soto's room, moving from child to child, checking for a pulse. He found one in a young girl, and shouted for officers to provide cover while he brought her out of the school.

"I began running across the parking lot towards Dickinson Drive with the girl in my arms praying that she would live and telling her that she was safe, that Jesus loved her, and that I was protecting her," Chapman wrote.

The loss of so many children in Rousseau's and Soto's classrooms tested the resilience of many officers.

One state trooper literally went weak in the knees at the sight of the children. "I stepped out of the room and someone grabbed me and asked me if I was all right," he wrote. "I said no."

State Police Sgt. Brent Aiken said numerous fellow troopers were in shock as they left the school. The troopers "were all speechless and had a look of disbelief on their faces," he wrote.

When State Police Sgt. William Cario approached the bathroom in Rousseau's room, he was "initially unable to comprehend what I was looking at," he wrote. Cario fixated on one boy, and struggled to process the reality of so many other fallen children.

"The face of that little boy is the only specific image I have in that room," he wrote.

Cario tried to establish a count of the victims in the two classrooms, "but my mind would not count beyond the low teens and I kept getting confused," he wrote.

But Cario still had work to do. He was aware Natalie Hammond had been shot, and he returned to the meeting room, swiftly bandaging her hand and leg. He remembers trying to conserve medical equipment, thinking there might be other survivors in need of treatment.

Although Cario didn't think it was safe to evacuate everyone in the room, he put Hammond in a wheeled desk chair and brought her outside. Police were keeping ambulances a safe distance away, so Cario placed Hammond in another trooper's car and instructed him to drive up to the ambulance staging area.

Hammond repeatedly told Cario "Thank you" and "God bless you."

Later in the day, Cario bumped into Matthew Cassavechia, director of emergency medical services at Danbury Hospital, who said medical personnel would have to be given access to the school to formally declare the victims dead. Cario led Cassavechia and two other senior paramedics toward the building.

"I tried to prepare them for what they were about to see. I told them of the number of victims and the nature of the wounds," Cario wrote. "I told Cassavechia, 'This will be the worst day of your life.'"

The newly released documents also include limited and often heavily redacted reports of interviews with children who survived the shooting in Soto's room. Some had run out shortly after Lanza entered, and others escaped while Lanza was swapping ammunition magazines. Some interviews were conducted within hours of the shooting, as police sought to resolve reports that there might have been a second shooter.

One boy said he heard loud bangs and then the door opened and a "bad man" entered the room and started shooting. He said the man was dressed in "army clothes" and was firing a bazooka — the same word several other boys selected to describe the weapon.

The boy said he saw his teacher get shot as well as two of his classmates. He said the shooter "shot at him multiple times but missed" and instead struck a stuffed animal he was holding. The boy said he dropped the stuffed animal and ran.

Teachers and police did their best to keep students calm. A teacher shot in the foot explained away the blood by telling students in her classroom that she had stepped in red paint. Later, when other students asked if she was OK, she replied, "I'm just fine. I only sprained my ankle."

Officers wrestled with the desire to get the children out of the school as quickly as possible, but feared the possible traumatic impact of seeing Hochsprung and Sherlach. So students were told to put their hands on the side of their heads to create blinders, or to close their eyes and place their hands on the shoulder of the student ahead of them.

"I told them we were going to play follow the leader and whoever kept their eyes closed would win," Trooper First Class Edward Benecchi wrote.

The reports also show cautious teachers refusing to unlock doors even after police said it was safe to leave. Roig, who packed her students into the bathroom, was among the most skeptical, refusing to emerge even after an officer slid his badge under the door.

Chapman was there when Roig opened the door.

"A little girl ran up to me with her arms out," Chapman wrote, "and I picked her up and hugged her and told her that she was safe."

Courant Staff Writer Dave Altimari contributed to this story