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Documents highlight heroics, horror in Newtown

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Dec. 30 2013 6:25 a.m. MST

"In all my years of experience, I have known ... boys to talk about things like this but Adam's level of violence was disturbing," the teacher said.

The teacher forced Lanza to write something that he could share with the class. "He wrote a poem, from what I recall was beautiful," the teacher said. "Adam shared his poem in public with his father present, who was in tears."

OFFICERS RECOUNT HORROR

Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele, one of the first officers inside the school, remembered smelling gunpowder in the air as he huddled with two other officers, unsure where the shooter was. Suddenly a little girl walked out of a classroom alone.

"I want to go home," she whimpered.

Moments later, Vanghele and another officer, Sgt. William Cario, discovered a classroom where they found what appeared to be about 15 bodies, mostly children, piled in a small bathroom "like sardines."

Vanghele surmised that when the teachers heard gunshots, they ordered the children to cram into the bathroom. There were so many people inside that the door couldn't be closed, and the shooter gunned them all down.

Cario said he later helped three paramedics inside the school, saying he tried to select ones he knew had the experience to deal with the horrific scene.

He said he told one of them, "This will be the worst day of your life."

A JANITOR INTERVENES

Sandy Hook teachers described seeing janitor Rick Thorne rush toward the front of the school after the first shots. One teacher who couldn't get her classroom door locked told investigators that she looked into the hall, saw Thorne and motioned to him to lock her door. Other teachers who were hiding in their rooms heard Thorne confront Lanza, including telling him, "Put the gun down!"

Thorne said he called 911 from a school cellphone, told teachers to stay in their rooms and began locking classroom doors.

When police encountered Thorne, he couldn't produce his school ID, so he was handcuffed. But Thorne gave police the keys to the school and told them how to get up on the roof before he was escorted out of the building.

A TEACHER ASKS FOR A BADGE

Teacher Kaitlin Roig told police she heard "rapid fire shooting" near her classroom. She rushed her students into the classroom's bathroom, pulled a rolling bookshelf in front of the bathroom door and then closed and locked the door.

Roig packed 15 children in the bathroom, placing the smallest on the toilet paper dispenser for a moment and holding her there with one arm while she positioned the others. At one point, five or six children were piled on the toilet. The children knew what was happening and told her, "bad guys were shooting." Roig told the children they just had to wait until the good guys arrived.

Roig heard more gunfire, which seemed to be coming from the hallway outside her room and then heard a voice say, "Oh, please, no. Please, no."

Eventually, police officers slid their badges under the bathroom door. Roig refused to come out and told them that if they were truly police, they should be able to get the key to the door — which they did.

A GREAT HIDING PLACE

Trooper Ken Cournoyer, who helped evacuate children from the closets where they'd been hiding, recalled one boy who emerged and said he had a very good hiding spot.

"I remember him being so proud of himself for hiding so well," Cournoyer wrote in an investigative report. "I thought to myself that the teacher did a great job of distracting the children from what was actually taking place."

POLICE INTERVIEWED CHILDREN WITH CARE

Police were cautious when interviewing children who survived. The interviews were done only if the children or their parents requested them. If the child didn't want to talk, the interview was ended immediately.

Some of the parents thought talking openly about the shooting and getting accurate information out would help their child heal.

Detectives showed the children a simple map of the school's entrance, including the first grade hallway, and told them police knew Lanza came in through the glass doors and started walking down the hall shooting.

After the interview, the children were given a copy of Margaret Holmes' book "A Terrible Thing Happened" to help them process the violence they had witnessed.

IDENTIFYING THE DEAD

The documents contain dozens of reports from officers who notified the families of victims that their loved one had been formally identified.

Despite the reports' dispassionate, professional tone, the details hint at the day's horror. Officers wrote about returning coats, lunchboxes, artwork and clothing that belonged to victims. Some families were eager to reclaim their children's belongings; others said they weren't ready.

One officer wrote that he and a Catholic priest visited a victim's family. "Father Novajosky offered a prayer ... which they gladly accepted," he wrote.

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