The Daily Grind Video

While parents, siblings, family and friends still mourn the death of the 20 angels that Adam Lanza took away when he opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary School, many forget about the first responders who saw the carnage first hand.

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“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

When they pulled up to the school, they could still hear the bullets. When they walked to the door where Adam Lanza smashed his way through, they could still smell the gunpowder. And when they saw the two bodies lying on the floor of the lobby, they didn’t want to believe it was a real crime scene.

But early responders Lt. Christopher Vanghele, Officer Jason Flynn, Officer Leonard Penna, Detective Jason Frank and Officer William Chapman, are still processing and dealing with the devastation they saw that morning at Sandy Hook.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

This is the new reality for those officers; reliving those moments for the investigation. Recalling the details of seeing the first children, as they lay dead, is a ghastly reminder that they have to live with everyday.

One child had a slight pulse, but did not survive. Another was found bloody but unhurt, amid her dead classmates. Teachers were so protective of their students that they had to be coaxed by officers before opening doors. And the officers themselves, many of them fathers, instinctively used their most soothing Daddy voices to guide terrified children to safety.

Officers Chapman and Smith recall approaching the second classroom, where they spotted the rifle on the floor. Inside, they found the gunman, Adam Lanza, dead from a self-inflicted wound, along with the bodies of several children and other adults.

They rushed to the students’ sides, hoping to find signs of life in their lifeless bodies.

One little girl had a pulse and was breathing. Officer Chapman cradled her in his arms and ran with her outside, to an ambulance. Officer Chapman, a parent himself, tried to comfort her. “You’re safe now; your parents love you,” he recalled saying. She did not survive.

Most of the bodies were found in the classroom next door, where, Detective Frank recalled, “the teacher had them huddled up like a mother hen — simple as that, in a corner.”

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The officers led surviving children out of the school with their eyes closed, holding each other’s hands.

Some officers formed a human curtain around the bodies of Ms. Hochsprung and Ms. Sherlach, to shield the children from the sight as they filed past. Others blocked the doorways of the two classrooms.

But the end hasn’t come for these officers who responded to the scene. 

At least one person, Officer Bean, said he has already received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he had been unable to return to work since the shootings, and had needed medication to sleep.

“Words can’t describe how horrible it was,” said Detective Joudy, who has been with the department for 27 years.

Currently, the officers and their union are reaching out to state lawmakers, hoping to expand workers’ compensation benefits to include those who witness horrific violence.

We continue to keep the officers, who were also victims of this gruesome crime, in our thoughts and prayers.