Two years and two months after a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the commission created to analyze the shooting held its final working meeting.
The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a 16-member panel of Connecticut public officials, psychiatrists and educators, was formed in January 2013 to review current policy and make specific recommendations in areas of public safety, including school safety, mental health and gun violence. On Feb. 13, their last meeting finalized the report they will send to Gov. Dannel Malloy in March.
“This is an important day for the commission,” Scott Jackson, the mayor of Hamden and chair of the commission said, opening the Friday meeting. “[Today,] we hope to vote out the final substance that we have been working on for two years.”
The day before the meeting, the commission released a draft of their 256-page report. It includes 12 recommendations for improving school safety, 30 for reducing gun violence and 53 for improvements to mental health care in the state.
Excluding some minor grammatical and technical corrections, the committee agreed by consensus that the report was ready to be presented to Malloy. The committee agreed to meet one final time on March 3 to release the document.
One decision at Friday’s meeting was to change the ordering of two quotes from victims’ parents and to give the quotes individual pages. Originally, the quotes were in opposite order and were integrated within the report.
Fire Chief for the City of Norwalk Denis McCarthy, who served on the commission, told the News that giving these quotes separate pages, separated from the language of the commission, would make the recommendations more powerful to read.
Jackson said it was difficult to fathom actually releasing the report after working on it for two years, but he thanked the whole commission for their dedication.
“This is an extraordinary document with a very broad reach, and it could not have happened without the various types of expertise that [the members] all brought to the project,” he said.
Members of the commission closed the meeting by reflecting on the report and on the events of Dec. 14, 2012. Former state representative and Newtown social worker Christopher Lyddy said the decision to work on the report was difficult because it was not just an academic process, but also an emotional one. He added that the work of commission has had a significant impact on Newtown, the families of victims and survivors, and, he hoped, on the country as a whole. Although the report is addressed to the governor, Lyddy said he hopes other states will also take note of the recommended policies.
“While we celebrate our work today, I hope we’ll remember that there’s a lot more work to be done coming forward,” he said. “This journey does not come to an end for many people.”
Harold Schwartz, professor of psychiatry of the University of Connecticut, said the shooting was a wake-up call for many people across the globe, not only those in Newtown. Unfortunately, he added, there have been many such wake-up calls, and he believes there will be many more. However, he said he hopes that people act on the recommendations in the report.
The report is dedicated to the 26 people who lost their lives at Sandy Hook, directing readers to a website created by the victims’ families to honor each of their legacies.
Despite the difficulties of working on the report, Schwartz said he was grateful to work on it because it presented him with a sense of purpose. He commended the commission’s members for their honesty and vulnerability throughout the process, as well as their determination to push forward strong recommendations regardless of their political or financial feasibility.
“I know Sandy Hook will never be forgotten, but it has to be acted on,” Schwartz said.