Crime scene investigators speak out about 'unimaginable horror' of Sandy Hook shooting aftermath for first time
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Featured Image Credit: Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime
Crime scene investigators have spoken out about the ‘unimaginable horror’ of the immediate aftermath at Sandy Hook elementary school, for the first time, since the deadly mass shooting .
On 14 December 2012, the lives of 26 children and staff members were taken by 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, after he opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
Lanza died by suicide, after shooting himself in the head, and before cruelly taking the lives of innocent adults and children at Sandy Hook elementary school, he murdered his own mother.
Now over a decade since one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history took place, the crime scene investigators, who were responsible with documenting the crime scene in the immediate aftermath, have spoken about what they witnessed.
Three detectives; Jeff Covello, Art Walkley and Karoline Keith, who work for the Connecticut State Police Western District Major Crime Squad, have shared horrific details with The New York Times.
Jeff Covello was the crime-scene-van supervisor on the day, while Art Walkley went inside the school first and sketched out the crime scene. His job meant he had seen ‘a good deal of the unimaginable’, including body parts in septic tanks, but nothing prepared him for what he saw in the Sandy Hook classrooms. Meanwhile, Karoline Keith, served as the senior detective on the van.
Their role was to establish the ‘choreography of the shooter’s moments’ and record their findings through photographs and video to be used in court. Four overall photos of each room had to be taken, which were all medium shots plus a number of close-ups to memorialise ‘every miniscule aspect of the work’.
Karoline had requested to be transferred off the van after starting therapy in 2010, but she was persuaded to stay. The job of walking into the aftermath of gruesome crime scenes had taken a toll on her. She had been left suffering from panic attacks and had become ‘controlling and hypervigilant’ at home.
In the school’s lobby, the team found shot-out windows and broken glass scattered on the floor. Another member of the van, Ray Insalaco, was tasked with helping to box up the desks and empty the 20 lunchboxes left by the murdered students. He was urged to avoid reading the messages left by the parents inside the lunch boxes, however he made the mistake of seeing one which read: “Thank God it’s Friday. Love, Mommy.”
Six days after the shooting on 20 December, the team took Attorney General Eric Holder through the school. In Classroom 10, a numbered evidence tag was left to mark the area where a body had been removed. There were stains on the floor where two teachers had died.
When the team first entered Classroom 8, days before taking the Attorney General through the school, they ‘all stood in silent disbelief’ after seeing the carnage inside where ‘the children were packed in so tightly that the inward-hinged door could not be shut all the way’.
“Look,” Jeff told the team, “we’re going to do this the same way we always do it. We’re just going to do it 26 times.”
During the process of memorialising the scene, the team noticed the Christmas projects the children had been working on, Pokémon cards, Little Mermaid items, drawings of stick-figure families, cups of milk still on the students’ desks, alongside crayons and scissors and their big goals for the year. One child said they wanted to learn how to tie their shoes.
Detective Art Walkley took 1,495 photographs in total, which were included in the official report released by the Connecticut State Police.
However, the majority of the Sandy Hook photographs have been redacted by Connecticut state law since 2013.