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Scope, Pain Of Sandy Hook Killings Unfolds In Officials' Emails

It was an unremarkable Friday in December.

At the Capitol, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was getting ready for a noon meeting to brief his top aides on efforts to resolve a $365 million state budget shortfall. Staffers were reviewing schedules, perusing press clippings and setting up meetings. And Malloy's chief spokesman was running late.

"Henry's got a cold and I've been up since 3 a.m.," Andrew Doba wrote in an email to his colleagues in the governor's office, referring to his young son. "I'll be in once I get him settled."

The normal rhythms of the day would soon come to a precipitous halt.

"[Connecticut State Police] SWAT and patrol responding [to] multiple shots in classroom #9," read an email from Lt. Sean Cox, the commander of the governor's security unit, sent at 10:22 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2012. The subject line: "School Shooting Newtown, CT Sandy Hook Elementary."

The horror unfolds in hundreds of electronic messages sent in minutes and hours following the shooting and released this week by the Malloy administration. In terse, sharply focused prose, the emails offer a new lens on that tragic day four years ago, when a gunman dressed in black shot and killed 20 first-graders and six educators.

"Sweeping school now," Cox wrote at 10:33 a.m. "Over 20 troopers on scene ... multiple ambulances multiple people down."

The messages to and from members of the governor's inner circle show how a shaken staff struggled to respond to one of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, and dealt with the complex logistics of managing a crisis. The emails were provided to The Courant in response to a request under the state's Freedom of Information law.

Several of the messages reflect the confusion of the immediate aftermath of the shootings. There are inaccurate references to multiple shooters and the number of dead. "Still total chaos," senior adviser Roy Occhiogrosso wrote at 10:51. "We need to get gov down there but not yet."

By 11:45, Malloy was on his way to Newtown and soon, the White House would be on the line. Malloy also fielded condolence calls from other governors.

Meanwhile, Malloy's aides were scrambling to deploy mental-health counselors to the small town in northern Fairfield County. "There is a very high need for counselors and other support," Brian Durand, who was then Malloy's deputy chief of staff, wrote. "We should continue to send any and all resources we can, and to reach out for additional help wherever possible."

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services sent a mobile crisis unit, the Department of Public Health dispatched a "fatality response" team and the Department of Education deployed crisis response staff. Yale University and neighboring states also offered to send mental-health professionals.

"We have [staff] that have been trained in this area for years," wrote Pat Rehmer, former commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. "They responded to the lottery shootings, the 9/11 incident (for weeks) and most other emergencies in the state. That being said, given the magnitude and the facts that are unfolding, we are ... first sending experienced staff and staff who are saying they can manage the magnitude of this."

President Barack Obama has called Dec. 14, 2012, the worst day of his presidency and he traveled to Newtown two days later to meet with family members and address townspeople at a memorial service at the high school. Many of emails dealt with the logistics of organizing a presidential visit on short notice.

The emails also show that Malloy's staff began thinking about gun control within four hours of the shootings. "Send everything you can about CT gun control laws to both Roy and I," Doba wrote to Michael Lawlor, Malloy's top criminal justice adviser, at 1:30 p.m.

Lawlor sent a lengthy summation of the state's gun laws a half hour later.

There were more mundane concerns as well. The national media had descended on Newtown, and everyone from Brian Williams to Piers Morgan to Jeanine Pirro was seeking an interview.

"Roy---really would like the Governor to talk to Diane Sawyer tonight for our 20/20 Special on the tragedy at Sandy Hook," Polson Kanneth, a producer with the show, wrote to Occhiogrosso.

"Say no to this pls," Occhiogrosso directed Doba. "Less is more."

A producer with the Dr. Phil show also received the brush off. The TV therapist planned to send a trauma team to Newtown to answer questions — and was seeking the governor's blessing.

"[D]on't think we want to have him involved," wrote Mark Ojakian, the the governor's then-chief of staff. "He will just sensationalize it more than it is already."

Added Rehmer, "No-this is exactly what we don't need. Part of our job is to protect the families. He can [counsel] at a national level. ... I agree with Mark — this will be all about him."

The emails provide an incomplete record. There are no messages from Malloy himself and nothing about the difficult conversations between the governor and family members of the victims at a firehouse near the school. In many cases, Malloy was the one to inform parents that their children were dead.

Before the weekend was over, the governor had one more family to contact: the brother and mother of Nancy Lanza, the mother of shooter Adam Lanza and also his first victim.

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