Newtown Cops Still Shaken by Tragedy As Connecticut Takes on Gun Control Debate

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Photo: Shannon Hicks/AP2012

At least one police officer who responded to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been diagnosed with PTSD, and others still break down in tears with little provocation a month and a half after they were the first to the gruesome scene where one man killed twenty children and six adults. The officers who spoke to The New York Times gave some of the most vivid and detailed descriptions to date about what it was like inside the school as they realized the scope and horror of what had taken place. "You saw them lifeless, laying down," one officer said. "For a split second, your mind says could this be a mock crime scene, could this be fake, but in the next split second, you’re saying, there is no way. This is real."

The intimate description of tragedy comes as a stark contrast to the heated rhetoric elsewhere in the Connecticut, where people crowded into the capitol building Monday for a hearing on gun-control laws. Some interrupted a Sandy Hook victim's father's testimony with cries of "the Second Amendment!"

The parents who lost children at Sandy Hook testified on both sides of the gun-control issue, as did some 1,500 others, as a bipartisan task force works to have legislation ready to pass by the end of February. "The sole purpose of those AR-15s or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly, and that’s what they do and that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School," said Neil Heslin, who lost his 6-year-old son in the massacre. Another parent who lost a child argued that the existing gun laws were enough, if people were held individually accountable. "The problem is not gun laws," Mark Mattioli said. "The problem is a lack of civility."

The boisterous back-and-forth is a little jarring after the officers' somber recollections, which share The Times' New York section on Tuesday. Especially Officer William Chapman's account of finding a critically injured child: "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."