Members of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission discussed Friday contacting the father of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza in an effort to answer questions left unresolved by the state’s attorney’s report on the mass shooting.
The commission was established by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in January following murders last December in Newtown where a gunman entered an elementary school and killed 20 first graders and six adults. The 20-year-old shooter also murdered his mother that day and took his own life after his rampage at the school.
The advisory panel had suspended its meetings while Danbury State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky III worked to complete his investigation into the shooting.
But during the group’s first meeting since Sedensky released his report last month, commissioners seemed split on whether the report provided enough details for the group to make informed recommendations on mental health issues raised by the shooting.
“One thing that remains unclear, I think, to many of us is this sort of fundamental question, ‘Who is Adam Lanza?’” the commission’s chairman Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson said.
Although Jackson and other members suggested the panel should avoid trying to scrutinize the specifics of the gunman’s mental state too closely, Harold Schwartz, a psychiatrist and member of the commission, said the group needs more detail than what Sedensky provided in his report.
“For us to write a report on the basis of the information we have now, to me, feels almost embarrassing and sets us up for potential actual, real embarrassment if real information that we don’t have becomes available at a later date,” he said.
Schwartz asked whether the group could seek testimony from the shooter’s estranged father, Peter Lanza. He said it was not clear from Sedensky’s report whether he had refused to release records on his son to the authorities.
Sedensky, who sat in on the meeting but did not participate, was asked afterward if some of the records Schwartz had asked about would be included with the information state police are expected to release on the incident early next year. Sedensky said only that “Mr. Lanza did cooperate with the investigation.”
Schwartz asked Jackson if the commission could reach out to Lanza.
“Can we invite the father to testify to us? Do we know that he would refuse? I don’t know,” he said.
Jackson seemed hesitant but said the group could ask Lanza. If he agreed, Jackson said the meeting should consist of a smaller group of task force members who are associated with the mental health field.
“We can ask nicely. I would want to be extremely sensitive,” Jackson told Schwartz. “. . . I’d like to discuss that offline.”
Schwartz said one thing the group did know about the shooter was that he was given a diagnosis of a disorder on the Pervasive Developmental Disorder spectrum. He said parents raising children on the PDD spectrum have the most difficult time accessing services for their kids.
“These kids need care and rehabilitation services of one kind or another throughout their lives. And if there is a story in Mr. Sedensky’s report — there’s a little bit of that story,” He said. “. . . The resources are barely out there and to try to access them, we hear time and time again, wears down any and every family trying to access them.”
Schwartz said he believed the commission’s report should address this segment of the population “which is just hugely under-treated.”
Other members of the commission suggested the group focus on other areas. Patricia Keavney-Maruca, a member of the State Board of Education, said the commission’s recommendations should continue to advocate for stronger gun control policies.
“I keep thinking that Adam Lanza’s mental health . . . it is what it was, but if he didn’t have access to guns we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” she said. “I think that should be a major part of this recommendation. I don’t think we should give up that battle.”
The commission also heard a review of the early moments of the shooting from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association. The report concluded that Newtown Police responded quickly to the mass shooting and likely prevented more casualties.
“It is our opinion that the Newtown police first responders responded rapidly and deployed their resources appropriately and in accordance with law enforcement’s best practices,” South Windsor Police Chief Matt Reed said.
Newtown officers did not enter the school for around six minutes after they first arrived at the school on the day of the shooting, according to a timeline released with Sedensky’s report. Reed said officers were initially tasked with assessing the threat of people moving around outside the building.
“The officers were engaged in the assessment of what they perceived to be a true threat. They dealt with that threat quickly and then moved into the building,” Reed said.
Jackson said he hopes the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission will be ready to finalize its report in mid-March.