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Sandy Hook Commission Begins Its Search for Answers

In its first meeting Thursday, the commission heard from Gov. Malloy and experts who had served on similar panels after school shootings in the past.

Sandy Hook Commission Begins Its Search for Answers

In its first meeting Thursday, a panel created by Gov. Dannel Malloy in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings heard testimony from two experts with experience dealing with school shootings — former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie.

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is eventually expected to make legislative recommendations in the areas of safety, gun violence prevention and mental health. Before they do, they'll hear from a wide array of experts to aid their decision. In his charge to the commission before they began, Gov. Malloy warned them their work would be difficult, but valuable.

"The desire for changing our policies and our laws ... is increasing on a daily basis, not decreasing," Malloy said. "That may be the difference between this mass shooting and others."

The panel is headed by Hamden mayor Scott Jackson and consists of experts in school security, mental health and other relevant issues -- including two psychiatrists with Hartford's Institute of Living and former Newtown state representative Christopher Lyddy. It also includes Newtown middle school teacher Ron Chivinski.

Gov. Malloy suggested the panel may find a way to help reduce the stigma of mental illness while finding real solutions to problems of gun violence.

"We live in a society that has destigmatized violence at the same time it's refused to destigmatize mental treatment," he said.

Ritter, a former Denver district attorney who was present at Columbine High School on the day of the 1999 school shooting and served on the Columbine Review Commission, told the 16 members of the panel to stay inquisitive.

"Many of you are in the listening profession ... As commissioners, you really have to become that way," said Ritter, referring to the presence of psychologists and teachers on the board. He warned against drastic measures like metal detectors or cameras, and said the panel should focus on the "intersection" of mental health and public safety issues.

"[Trauma] ripples throughout the community, throughout the state, and throughout the nation," he said. "Having some sense of that and understanding that as a community member is extremely important."

He warned the commission their efforts were being watched closely.

"I think you can expect your audience will be the people of Newtown, certainly, the people of Connecticut ... But the nation watches. And the nation asks questions and wants to understand why and how these kinds of tragic events continue to occur."

One expected answer -- an update on the police investigation -- proved uneventful. Danbury State Attorney Stephen Sedensky told the commission he had obtained court orders to keep documents sealed, including those related to the alleged shooter's mental health.

"Our estimate is it will take several months for state police portion of criminal investigation to complete," said Sedensky. In the meantime, the Sandy Hook Elementary School building remains closed as a crime scene. "We're hoping for sometime this summer ... possibly June."

Bonnie, who served on the Virginia Tech Review Panel following the 2007 school shootings, advised the commission to follow the "lessons learned" after that shooting.

"We already had a reform process underway before the shootings," said Bonnie. "[W]e had widespread dissatisfaction with the large gaps in mental health services, and pressures on emergency departments, jails and acute care hospitals." He advised the commission to be thorough and take time in crafting responses.

But taking time may prove difficult. Gov. Malloy has advised the commission it would be best to complete its work before June, reports USA Today, when the current session of the Connecticut General Assembly concludes.

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