The distribution of donations after the Newtown shooting may have caused “permanent fractures” in the town, First Selectwoman Pat Llodra told the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on Friday.
Llodra was Newtown’s top executive on Dec. 12, 2012, when a 20-year-old gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 20 school children and six educators. During a Friday meeting of a panel created by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, she described how her town struggled to deal with the flood of inquiries and generosity after the incident.
Well-wishers sent millions of dollars in donations. A United Way fund set up immediately after the shooting had around $12 million and distributed about $8 million last year. Llodra said there were many other funds and the dispersal of the money has caused problems in Newtown.
“The distribution decisions for those funds has been problematic, has created significant conflict, which I believe endures and may in fact be a permanent fracture among some in our community. People so badly hurt in such horrific events need to be protected from that kind of conflict,” she said.
Llodra said there should be clear processes for determining how donated money is spent.
“Town government should not be put in the position to try to arbitrate those differences or be the conduit for funds, as happened in Newtown,” she said.
Llodra said the town was fortunate to receive help from some partners. She praised General Electric several times during her remarks to the commission. She said the corporation paid four executives to aid her office with handling the various logistical hurdles faced by the small town in the aftermath of the shooting. Llodra said about 150 GE employees live in Newtown.
Logistical hurdles included challenges created by other types of generosity like documenting and distributing all the gifts sent to Newtown. She said the town would have “collapsed under the weight of the generosity” if not for the efforts of the Adventist Community Services Disaster Response group.
“At one point we logged 65,000 stuffed teddy bears. Not to mention all other types of stuffed animals, hundreds of backpacks, bicycles, skateboards, school supplies, candles, gift wrap, crayons, thousands of books, sneakers, and more,” she said.
Llodra said the volume of mail sent to Newtown prompted U.S. Postal Service employees to set up shop in the town hall’s basement. Volunteers helped sort more than 200,000 pieces of mail, she said.
Llodra told the group she wanted to stress how important logistical coordinators are in the aftermath of disasters. She said it was difficult to maintain the town’s day-to-day operations as town staff was tied up in disaster response.
“At one point we had four department heads and their staffs almost fully engaged in managing products, activities, mail, and volunteers. None of us regret the time we spent helping in these small ways, but the business of running the town was severely impacted,” she said.
Llodra described difficulties trying to coordinate providers offering mental health support. She called for one state agency to be designated as the lead agency for mental health response.
“There was a lot of noise and confusion in the early days when it comes to mental health support. Many, many therapists and clinicians came to our town, all well meaning and anxious to serve. We had no way to vet the credentials of these providers,” she said.
Commission member Dr. Harold Schwartz, head psychiatrist at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, praised Llodra’s handling of the tragedy as First Selectwoman.
“You have set a new standard. To those of us observing from a distance your personal performance as a human being, set into a crisis that no one could ever have prepared for, has been remarkable,” he said.
Llodra’s testimony comes as the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is wrapping up its work. The group discussed some of its draft recommendations during the Friday meeting. The panel will meet again on Sept. 23.