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

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook that day.

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 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 bodies of several children and other adults.

They rushed to the students’ sides, hoping 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.”

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 the shield the children from the sight as they filed past. Others blocked the doorways of the two classrooms.