2012 Sandy Hook
On December 14, 2012
in Newtown, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, a 20-year-old former student named Adam Lanza killed twenty-six people and himself. He killed his mother at their shared home, stole four of her guns and her car, and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary, where he killed 20 children aged six and seven and six adults. Two other people were injured, and Lanza also killed himself as police arrived at the school to confront him.
It began at an unknown time in the morning on December 14, 2012, when Lanza shot and killed his mother Nancy Lanza, aged 52, with a .22-caliber rifle at their Newtown home. She was still in pajamas, in her bed, with four gunshot wounds to her head when she was found. Lanza stole his mother’s car and several of her guns and drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Shortly after 9:35 a.m., dressed in all black with yellow earplugs, sunglasses, and an olive green utility vest (initial reports that he was wearing body armor were false), and armed with his mother's Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, Lanza shot through a glass window next to the doors at the front entrance the school. Some heard these initial shots on the school intercom system, which was broadcasting the morning announcements when the shooting started.
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Sandy Hook school Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were in a meeting with others when they heard noises they did not recognize as gunshots. Hochsprung, Sherlach, and teacher Natalie Hammond, who said she thought it might have been the sound of pipes banging when the school furnace kicked on, entered the hallway to investigate when they immediately encountered Adam Lanza.
A faculty member who was in the meeting in the conference room said that the women yelled that there was a shooter, and that everyone should stay put, saving the lives of everyone else in the meeting. Hammond was hit in the leg, then hit again, and she laid still in the hallway playing dead until all noise ceased in the hallway, at which time she crawled back to the conference room and pressed her body against the door to keep it closed in an effort to save her coworkers. When Connecticut State Police Sgt. William Cario found Hammond, he bandaged her hand and leg, put Hammond in a wheeled desk chair from the conference room, and brought her outside. Police kept ambulances a distance away since the scene had not yet been cleared amid reports that there might have been a second shooter, so Cario put Hammond in another trooper’s car and had him drive her to the ambulance staging area. She was treated at Danbury Hospital, and survived the massacre to continued teaching at Sandy Hook. She is now a school principal in Guilford, CT.
A teacher hiding in the math lab heard janitor Rick Thorne yell "Put the gun down!", and other teachers reportedly heard the janitor try to get Lanza to leave the school. Thorne then called 911 on his cell phone and ran, going through the school hallways, letting everyone in the classrooms know that there was an active shooter in the school. Rick Thorne survived, and is now a janitor at Middle Gate Elementary School.
A nine-year-old boy said he heard Lanza say, "Put your hands up!" and heard someone else cry out, "Don't shoot!" He also heard many people yelling, and many, many gunshots over the intercom while he, and his classmates and their teacher hid themselves in a closet in the gym. A school therapist who had been at the faculty meeting heard screaming followed by more gunshot, and a substitute kindergarten teacher was wounded closing the door to her room when she was hit in the foot by a round that ricocheted from down the hall. Lanza never even entered her classroom. To keep her students calm, she explained away the blood by telling her students that she had stepped in red paint, and when students asked her if she was OK, she replied, “I’m just fine. I only sprained my ankle.”
Lanza walked into the main office but didn’t see the people hiding there. School nurse Sarah (Sally) Cox, 60, hid under the desk in her office. The door opened, and she saw Lanza's boots and legs enter, facing her desk from about 20 feet away. He stood there for a few seconds, then turned around and left the nurses office. She and school secretary Barbara Halstead hid in a supply closet for four hours.
Lanza entered Room 8, a first-grade classroom where Lauren Rousseau, a substitute teacher, had her first-grade students to the back of the room, in the process of attempting to hide them in a bathroom. Lanza forced his way into the classroom. Rousseau, Rachel D'Avino (an outside behavioral therapist who had been hired at the school to work with a special needs student), and fifteen students in Rousseau's class were killed. Fourteen of the children were dead at the scene; one injured child was taken to a hospital for treatment, but was later declared dead. Most of the teachers and students were found crowded together in the bathroom.
A six-year-old girl was found by police in the classroom following the shooting hiding in a corner of the classroom's bathroom. She survived by playing dead and told her mother, "Mommy, I'm okay, but all my friends are dead." She described Lanza as "a very angry man". A girl who hiding in another bathroom with two teachers told police that she heard a boy in the classroom screaming, "Help me! I don't want to be here," to which Lanza responded, "Well, you're here,” followed by what she described as “hammering sounds.”
Lanza went to Room 10, another first-grade classroom. There are conflicting reports about the order of events in room 10. In one version, the classroom's teacher, Victoria Leigh Soto, had hidden some of the students in a closet or bathroom, and some of the other students were hiding under desks. Soto was walking back to the classroom door to lock it when Lanza entered the classroom and killed her. Lanza then walked to the back of the classroom, and saw the children under the desks. First-grader Jesse Lewis shouted at his classmates to run, and several of them did. Lewis was reportedly looking directly at Lanza when Lanza started shooting.
A different version of events, given by a surviving child's father, claims that Soto moved the children to the back of the classroom, and they were seated on the floor when Lanza entered. According to this fathers version of events, neither Lanza nor any of the occupants of the classroom spoke, but Lanza stared at the people on the floor, and pointed his gun at a boy seated there, but did not shoot him. The boy ran out of the classroom and escaped. The Hartford Courant wrote that six of the children escaped when Lanza stopped shooting, either because his weapon jammed or had a user error.
Early reports claimed that, as Lanza entered her classroom, Soto told him that the children were in the auditorium. When several of the children came out of their hiding places and tried to run for safety, Lanza shot at them, and Soto put herself between her students and Lanza, who then shot her. Soto and four children were found dead in the classroom. Soto was near the north wall of the room with a set of keys nearby. Six surviving children from her class along with a school bus driver took refuge at a nearby home.
Newtown Officer William Chapman was the first person to enter the classrooms of Soto and Rousseau, and wrote in his report that it appeared the teachers and their special education aides died “actively trying to protect the children at all costs”.
Chapman stepped in, quickly scanning the room for a second shooter, and then, he wrote, “my heart broke. I walked around the room saying to myself, ‘no, no, no,'” Chapman wrote. He found a girl with the pulse amid the carnage, and wrote that he “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…” Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele recalled Chapman carrying a little girl in his arms and running for the exit. Vanghele ran with him through the parking lot as Chapman repeated, "Come on, sweetie; come on, sweetie." There are conflicting reports that she died in his arms, and that she died in Danbury Hospital.
According to the official report released by the Connecticut state's attorney, nine children ran from Soto's classroom, and police found two hiding in the class bathroom. Five of Soto's students were killed, along with Soto and Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher working with special needs students, whose body was found shielding six-year-old Dylan Hockley, who was also killed.
First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig, 29 years old, hid fourteen students in a bathroom, barricaded the door, and told them they needed to be totally quiet in order to be safe. Lanza bypassed their classroom, which was the first classroom on the left side of the hallway. Roig had left a piece of black construction paper covering the small window in her classroom door after a lockdown drill weeks earlier and it is speculated that Lanza assumed Roig's classroom was empty because the door was closed and the window appeared dark. Roig eventually heard a voice, presumably Officer Chapman, say, "Oh, please, no. Please, no."
Shortly thereafter, when police officers slid their badges under her bathroom door, Roig refused to come out and told them that if they were in fact the police, they should be able to get a key to the door and open it themselves, which they did. Officer Chapman, who is now Sergeant of the Community Services Division of the Newtown Police, with responsibility over the School Resource Officers (SROs), was there when police opened the bathroom door, and wrote “A little girl ran up to me with her arms out and I picked her up and hugged her and told her that she was safe.”
School librarians Yvonne Cech and Maryann Jacob hid eighteen children in a part of the library, but when the door would not lock, they had the children crawl into a storage room and Cech barricaded the door with a filing cabinet.
On the way home from the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, I had a very dry throat. My son was driving me home because my car was part of the crime scene, and I had to leave it at the school, along with my purse, my jacket, my glasses. There was no time to grab anything, just time to get my students into the closet and hide there, silently, until the shooting stopped. We were in the closet for about an hour and a half when the SWAT team came to evacuate us, with guns drawn and helmets and shields. We (myself, three other adults and 18 fourth graders), were instructed to run out of the building, under their protection, because the building wasn’t yet secure. There might still be more shooters.
After many, many hours in the evacuation area, we were on our way home. I asked my son to stop at a gas station to get a bottle of water, something I must have done hundreds of times in my life. As he got out of the car my breath caught in my chest and I felt instant panic. What if there was a shooter in the gas station? How could I let my son go in there? That is when I knew that my life was going to be different. Never again could I say definitively to my students or to my own children, don’t worry, you are safe here. After all, if an innocent and beautiful elementary school atmosphere could be beset by such tragedy, how could any other place ever be safe again? - Yvonne Cech
Music teacher Maryrose Kristopik, 50, barricaded her fourth-graders in a small closet. Lanza arrived at their room, and pounded on the door, screaming "Let me in!" while the class huddled together in the supply closet in quiet terror. Two third-grade students were walking down the hallway to the office to deliver morning attendance sheets as the shooting began, and teacher Abbey Clements pulled both children into her classroom, where they hid. Abbey Clements, like Natalie Hammond, continued to teach at Sandy Hook, where she is still teaching fourth grade today.
On December 14, 2012, I walked into Sandy Hook School... It was an ordinary, cold, sunny Friday. I stopped at the office, signed in, chatted with my principal, for the last time, and started my day with my students. Then a loud crash, 154 gunshots blaring through the speakers, hiding in the coats, trying to sing with my students, trying to read to them, trying to drown out the sounds. Terror. Crying. Running. That was the other me, for the last time. - Abbey Clements
The police heard the final shot at 9:40 a.m. and Lanza was found near the doorway of Victoria Soto’s classroom wearing a pale green pocket vest over a black polo shirt, over a black T-shirt, black sneakers, black fingerless gloves, black socks, and a black canvas belt. A black boonie hat, and some sunglasses were on the floor nearby. The Glock was found, jammed, near Lanza’s body. The rifle was found several feet away.
Lanza reloaded frequently during the shootings, sometimes firing only half of his 30-round magazines. All but two of his victims were shot multiple times. Most of the shooting, which was over in less than five minutes, took place in two first-grade classrooms near the entrance of the school. Lanza fired 156 shots in those five minutes, including two shots from the pistol.
Janet Robinson, Newtown schools superintendent, said she had not found any connection between Lanza's mother and the school, contradicting reports that Lanza's mother had worked there. Lanza himself however attended Sandy Hook Elementary School for four and a half years.
The motivation for the shooting is unknown. A friend told police that Nancy Lanza said that Adam Lanza had bumped his head "really bad" (he drew blood) a few days before the shootings. An ex-boyfriend told police Nancy Lanza canceled a trip to London the week of the shooting due to "problems on the home front."
Nancy Lanza told a lifelong friend about two weeks before the massacre that Adam was becoming increasingly despondent. Adam Lanza hadn't left his room in months and was communicating only by email. After Hurricane Sandy came through Connecticut, cutting power to the Lanza home, it "put Adam over the edge." His mother couldn't convince him to stay at a hotel or in an RV.
A day before the massacre, Nancy Lanza had lunch with a friend in New Hampshire who told police she used the trip as an experiment to allow her son to stay home alone. The friend told investigators that Nancy had no intention of remarrying because she accepted her obligations caring for Adam. According to police documents, Adam Lanza was diagnosed in 2006 with "profound Autism Spectrum Disorder, with rigidity, isolation, and a lack of comprehension of ordinary social interaction and communications," while also displaying symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, by Dr. Robert A. King, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine Child Study Center.
King, who did not respond to a request for comment, told police investigators that "My concern was that the shooter's social isolation and withdrawal was increasing," King is quoted as saying. He also told investigators that he observed nothing that predicted Lanza would become a mass killer.
Kathleen A. Koenig, a registered nurse at the Yale Child Study Center, told investigators Nancy Lanza said her son had several ritualistic behaviors, including frequently washing his hands and changing his socks 20 times a day, to the point that his mother did three loads of laundry a day.
The nurse, who met with Lanza in 2006 and 2007, said Lanza's mother declined to give him prescribed medications after she reported he had trouble raising his arm, something she attributed to side effects of the drugs. Koenig unsuccessfully tried to convince Nancy Lanza that the medicine was not responsible, and Lanza chose not to reschedule after her son missed an appointment, police said.
A former teacher of Lanza's was quoted by police saying that he exhibited antisocial behavior, rarely interacted with other students and obsessed in writings "about battles, destruction and war."
"In all my years of experience, I have known (redacted) grade boys to talk about things like this, but Adam's level of violence was disturbing," the teacher said, adding "Adam's creative writing was so graphic that it could not be shared."
Documents released by police indicate Lanza was interested in mass killings, played violent video games and had books that dealt with death, but conclude that Lanza's motives for the Newtown massacre will likely never be known.
A number of fringe media personalities promoted conspiracy theories about what occurred at Sandy Hook. The most common conspiracy theory, popularized by Alex Jones, denied that the massacre even happened. Jones described the shooting incident as "synthetic, completely fake with actors; in my view, manufactured,” and said that “it just shows how bold they are that they clearly used actors."
After doing a CNN interview on the day after the shooting, Robbie Parker, the father of victim Emilie Parker, became a target of such people. Parker has been attacked by people who believe he is a "crisis actor" and was "getting into character" before going on CNN to grieve over the loss of his child, and that his appearance was staged and scripted.
Some conspiracy theorists have claimed that as many as four shooters were present, while other conspiracy theories have focused on the claim that Adam Lanza's father was an executive with GE Energy Financial Services. Similar claims were made about the father of James Holmes, of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting; both fathers were connected by conspiracy theorists to the Libor scandal, which was a series of fraudulent actions connected to the Libor or London Interbank Offered Rate, an average interest rate calculated through interest rates of major banks world wide. The scandal was that banks were falsifying their rates to profit from trades, or to make it seem as if they were more creditworthy than they deserved to be.
Talk show host Clyde Lewis wrote: "Don't you find it at all interesting that Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter at Sandy Hook, woke up one day and decided to shoot up a school and kill children at about the same time that Barack Obama told the U.N. that he would sign the small arms treaty?"The Soviet born Israeli American immigrant to the United States, lawyer and dentist Orly Taitz, was quoted as asking "Was Adam Lanza drugged and hypnotized by his handlers to make him into a killing machine as an excuse as the regime is itching to take all means of self defense from the populace before the economic collapse?"
There is no credible evidence that any additional shooters were present and, predictably, no actual evidence supports any of the other wild conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook shooting, either.
Ben Swann, at the time a news anchor for Fox affiliate WXIX in Cincinnati, suggested on his personal YouTube channel that Adam Lanza was accompanied by another shooter; he made similar claims about the Aurora shooting and the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting earlier in 2012. Swann would be repeatedly fired from mainstream television for promoting outlandish conspiracy theories with no basis in fact. He went on to earn millions of dollars from RIA Novosti/Russia Today.
Taitz and Swann are something not unlike interesting figures, and will be discussed in more detail in a longer follow up article which has nothing at all to do with school shootings.
In September 2014, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who runs the website and video podcast InfoWars, and who had previously claimed that the murders were a "false flag" attack perpetrated by the government, promoted a new conspiracy that "no one died at Sandy Hook Elementary School” because the Uniform Crime Reports showed no murders in Newtown for 2012, and that the victims were "child actors."
His claim misrepresents the report, as the Sandy Hook victims were included in Connecticut's statewide records, and not under the Newtown statistics, because the Connecticut State Police were the lead investigators on the case.
In 2016, James Fetzer and Mike Palacek published a book called Nobody Died at Sandy Hook. The book claims that Sandy Hook shooting was a classified drill involving federal and local law enforcement and the media, and that the government created false death certificates in order to claim that there were victims at the school. Fetzer said parents showed old photos of real children with new, made up names for the children, creating non-existent siblings out of real pictures of real kids. Fetzer also claimed that several of these children sang "America the Beautiful" at the 2013 Super Bowl with Jennifer Hudson. Lenny Pozner, father of victim Noah Pozner, filed a defamation lawsuit against Fetzer and Palacek. He also founded an organization called the HONR Network, which takes legal action against harassers of Sandy Hook survivors and families.
Pozner won a summary judgement from the court in June 2019. The book's publisher, Moon Rock Books, apologized to the Pozner family and agreed to take the book out of circulation at the end of June. On October 16, 2019, a jury awarded Leonard Pozner $450,000 for defamation. Fetzer announced his intention to appeal the decision, but the appeals were denied by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 2021.
Wolfgang Halbig, a contributor on InfoWars, was arrested in January 2020 for unauthorized possession of personal information of Lenny Pozner. Halbig had illegally obtained Pozner's private information and attempted to dox Pozner with it. Under Florida law, such behavior carries a possible prison sentence of one year. There is no word on the trial.
On April 16, 2018, parents of two victims of the shooting sued Jones in Travis County, Texas (where Jones' media company is based), for $1 million each. In August of 2022, a Texas jury awarded Scarlett Lewis and Neil Heslin $4.1 million in compensatory damages and $45.2 million in punitive damages against Jones for spreading a conspiracy theory that the shooting was a hoax. In November of 2022, a Texas district court judge ruled that Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the full $49 million in damages despite a state law that limits the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded in civil suits.
On May 23, 2018, six families of victims of the shooting, along with an FBI agent who responded to the attack, filed a defamation lawsuit in Bridgeport Superior Court in Connecticut against Jones for his role in spreading conspiracy theories about the shooting. In a deposition in March 2019, Jones acknowledged the deaths were real, stating he had "almost like a form of psychosis", where he "basically thought everything was staged." Jones did not provide evidence to support his claims, and the case defaulted in favor of the plaintiffs. In October of 2022, a Connecticut jury awarded the families $965 million in compensatory damages. In November of 2022, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis awarded the families an additional $150 million in common law punitive damages and more than $323 million for attorney’s fees. This brings his current total damages for defamation close to $1.5 billion dollars.
James Tracy, a former professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) who taught a course on conspiracy theories, suggested the shooting either did not actually occur or occurred very differently than accounted in mainstream reports, claiming political motives for the coverup. FAU president Mary Jane Saunders issued a statement that Tracy's views were "not shared by Florida Atlantic University". In response to his comments, the university opened an investigation of Tracy, who was a tenured professor. In December 2015, after the family of Noah Pozner claimed that Tracy had harassed them. Florida Atlantic University fired Tracy on January 5, 2016, citing his refusal to file required paperwork related to outside employment for several years.
Several conspiracy theorists have also claimed a six-year-old victim of the shooting subsequently appeared in a photograph with President Barack Obama. In point of fact, the child the victim's sister, and also wearing her deceased sister's dress. Gene Rosen, a Newtown resident who was reported to have sheltered six Sandy Hook students and a bus driver in his home during the shooting, has been subject to harassment online alleging he was complicit in a government coverup, among other things.
In May 2014, Andrew David Truelove stole a memorial sign from playgrounds dedicated to victims Grace McDonnell and Chase Kowalski. He then went on to call the parents of Grace McDonnell, proclaiming that he stole the sign and that he believed their deaths were a "hoax". He was arrested on May 30, and the signs were found in his home. Truelove was convicted of the theft and sentenced to one year in prison.
In April 2016, Matthew Mills, of Brooklyn, NY, accepted a plea deal from prosecutors on one count of interfering with police arising from an incident in November 2015, when Mills approached the sister of murdered teacher Victoria Soto (who is publically regarded as a hero for putting herself in between her students and the shooter during the attack), angrily shoved a photograph in her face, and began ranting that “not only did the Sandy Hook tragedy not take place, but that Victoria Soto never existed."
Mills was found guilty, and given a suspended sentence of one year in jail and two years' probation.
In December 2016, Lucy Richards, a woman from Tampa, was charged with four counts of transmitting threats in interstate commerce for sending death threats to Lenny Pozner. In March 2017, Richards, free on bond, failed to show up to court for a change-of-plea hearing and sentencing. An arrest warrant was issued, Richards' bond was revoked, and she was soon apprehended. On June 7, 2017, Richards was sentenced to five months' imprisonment.