Monday, March 10, 2014
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Staff photo by Andy Molloy FIRST RESPONDERS: Newtown, CT, Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele, right, and Officer Jeff Silver discuss responding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School during the December 2012 shooting that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults during a conference in Augusta on Tuesday April 23, 2013.
Despite the difficulty, the men say they decided to attend the two-day conference to share with emergency responders important lessons from Sandy Hook. Those lessons covered a wide range of topics, from the pragmatic — such as properly establishing an emergency operations center — to the more ephemeral — such as handling the chaos and surging adrenaline one feels when responding to a report of an active shooter.
"If there's anything we can do that will help save someone, we're on board," Silver said.
Vanghele was a school resource officer in 1999 when two students shot and killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Colorado. Officers in that case delayed entering the school to coordinate the effort.
Vanghele determined long before the Sandy Hook killings that he would rush into the building and do whatever it took to eliminate the threat.
"One of the things that came out of Columbine is how we respond to active shooters," he said. "We don't wait anymore. When you have a scene like that, it's chaotic. Sometimes you feel like you're by yourself. You just need to get the job done. Your job isn't to hide. Your job is to stop the shooter from shooting and make the scene safe."
Vanghele said it had been a couple years since he had undergone active shooter training — during which officers are placed in scenarios designed to make the situation as realistic as possible — but he instinctively returned to what he had learned.
"The active shooter training helped me put aside the fear," Vanghele said. "I had something to do."
"Having that training helps," Silver said. "Training is still really important. They need to know how to work together."
The training worked in 2008 when Randall Hofland entered Stockton Springs Elementary School in Maine with a gun and held several students hostage, said Maine State Police Col. Robert Williams. Every law enforcement officer in the state gets the same training, which helped coordinate efforts to disarm Hofland, who eventually was arrested before injuring anyone. Hofland is serving a 35-year-sentence for kidnapping and hostage-taking.
"We're a small state and small community," Williams said. "Everyone needs to work together to get things done."
Williams said a Sandy Hook-style shooting could happen anywhere, so it's important that responders be prepared as much as possible.
"The reality is anything could happen," Williams said. "It could be something nobody has been through before. You never know until you get there."
Craig Crosby — 621-5642