Fred Rogers said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”
An unbelievable nightmare. Chaos. Numbing.
Those were just a few of the words Weston police Sgt. Pat Daubert used to describe the scene in Newtown immediately after the shootings on Friday, Dec. 14, at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Police officers from across the state, including several from Weston, responded to a call by Newtown for mutual aid.
The incident started shortly after 9:30 a.m., when Adam Lanza, 20, of Newtown entered the school and shot and killed 20 children and six adults with a semiautomatic rifle, before killing himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Beforehand, he killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their Newtown home.
“Evil visited the community today,” said Gov. Dannel Malloy.
On Friday, four Weston officers assisted in Newtown: Sgt. Daubert, Sgt. Matt Brodacki, Officer Dan Cascone, and Officer Dann McInnis. On Saturday, Officers Joe Miceli and Rob Curcio helped with patrol.
In addition, Weston Police Department chaplains Father Michael Dunn from St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and the Rev. Bernard Wilson of Norfield Congregational Church, along with Norfield’s associate minister, Kelly Hough Rogers, offered support and comfort to families of the victims, first responders, and emergency workers.
Reuniting parents and children
Sgt. Daubert, who had the day off from work on Friday and was at his home in Bethel, responded quickly to the mutual aid call and was assigned to a staging area at the nearby Sandy Hook firehouse, to which approximately 500 students were being evacuated.
Parents raced to the school, parking haphazardly in the street, rushing to see if their children were safe. Sgt. Daubert checked identification and reunited parents with their children.
“Hundreds of people were running around. It was a total mess. It was chaos,” he said.
He credited Redding police Chief Douglas Fuchs, who also responded to the mutual aid call, for alleviating the chaos by organizing the reunions in a composed way.
“Chief Fuchs had the children wait in one room and arranged them by grade and class. The parents waited in another room. After IDs were checked, we brought the children to the parents. Considering the circumstances and how emotional and upset everyone was, things went very smoothly,” Sgt. Daubert said.
Officer Cascone, who grew up in Newtown and still lives there, also helped families reunite at the firehouse and with patrol. Officers McInnis, Miceli and Curcio helped Newtown police with patrol.
Sgt. Brodacki helped with photo identifications of the shooting victims for the state’s medical examiner, Dr. H. Wayne Carver.
While parents were visibly distraught as they arrived at the firehouse, Sgt. Daubert said, the children, who ranged in age from 5 to 10 years old, were relatively calm, considering what they had just gone through — some hearing gunshots, others being told to run out of the building to safety.
“All in all, I think the kids handled things very well. They weren’t panicked. I’m hopeful for them. I think kids are resilient,” he said.
For Sgt. Daubert, one of the saddest moments came about five hours after the shootings, when all the children had been matched with their families and left the firehouse.
A number of agonized parents were still waiting.
“Everyone was hoping for good news, that more children would show up,” he said.
But that didn’t happen. Gov. Malloy came to the firehouse and told the parents their children had been killed. “It was the only answer, and the one the parents were expecting, but no one wanted to hear it or say it,” Sgt. Daubert said.
The state police assigned a trooper to assist each of the victim’s families through the next several days until the time of their funerals.
Sgt. Daubert from Weston and two officers from Redding were the only non-State Police officers assigned as “liaisons” to a family.
Sgt. Daubert was assigned to the Previdis, who lost their 6-year-old daughter, Caroline, a first grader with brown hair and sparkling eyes, who loved to draw and dance. Caroline was the daughter of Jeffrey and Sandy Previdi, and had an older brother, Walker.
After photo identifications of the victims were confirmed by the medical examiner, Sgt. Daubert and the other officers were asked to deliver official death notifications to their families.
“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. As a police officer you are trained to handle all kinds of situations. This was … incredibly rough … and tough,” he said, his voice breaking.
Sgt. Daubert spent the next day ensuring the family had privacy, and the groundswell of reporters who had permeated the community were kept at bay. “My focus was on making sure the family was comfortable in everything they did,” he said.
Meeting with the president
On Sunday, he and Sgt. Brodacki escorted the family to an interfaith service at Newtown High School, where they met with President Obama.
“The president genuinely cared and appeared to be very moved by the families. He played with the children and asked them what sports teams they liked. He told them what teams he liked. He invited the children to the White House and offered the families his assistance now or in the future for anything he could do for them. It was an incredible experience under a very bad situation,” Sgt. Daubert said.
The next day, Sgt. Daubert escorted the family through Newtown so they could make funeral arrangements. He also helped find accommodations for out-of-town relatives who were coming for the services. “The surrounding area was just one complete traffic jam,” he said.
On Sunday morning, hours before the president’s visit, Sgt. Daubert was driving by St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, when an officer who was directing traffic asked him if he was there to answer the call of a bomb threat at the church.
That was the first he had heard of the threat, so Sgt. Daubert went to the church and was the second officer on the scene.
An announcement was made to churchgoers, who were in the middle of a service, that there was a threat, and they were told to evacuate.
“One woman fainted on the way out and some people were hysterical,” Sgt. Daubert said.
After everyone was out, Sgt. Daubert and the other officers conducted a primary search of the church, checking every nook and cranny. A SWAT team arrived and conducted a detailed secondary search. Nothing was found.
From a police standpoint, Sgt. Daubert said, he was impressed with how well various officers from around the state worked together on all the issues that came up in Newtown following the shootings.
“It was a tremendous effort in a very difficult time,” he said.
Weston police Chief John Troxell called the Sandy Hook shootings “horrific.”
As the situation unfolded on Friday and it was not yet known if the shooter was still on the loose, security was beefed up at Weston public schools with additional patrols as a precautionary measure. Open campus at the high school, which allows students to leave during free time, was temporarily suspended.
Police were stationed at Weston schools throughout this week as well, in order to provide assurance to students and parents that the campus was safe.
Chief Troxell explained how difficult it is for first responders and police to handle situations like the one in Newtown.
“Officers are trained to put their feelings aside to do their jobs. But the hardest thing to deal with is human tragedy and the fallout with families of the victims. There comes a point when things become personal. Many of our officers have children, so it is easy for them to understand the feelings of a family who has lost a child under these circumstances. Nobody is a superman,” he said.
First Selectman Gayle Weinstein had high praise for Weston police in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.
“I’m so appreciative of the response of our sergeants that were there helping,” she said, as well as those who worked with schools to make sure Weston children felt and were safe.
Ms. Weinstein accompanied Sgt. Daubert and visited briefly with Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra the day after the shooting. “I wanted to let her know she had my personal support, as well as the support of the entire Weston community,” Ms. Weinstein said.
The scene there was “heartbreaking,” she added.
Although Sgt. Daubert’s assignment with the Previdi family officially ended following Caroline’s funeral on Wednesday, Dec. 19, he said he plans to be there in the future for the family members if they need him.
“They are my extended family now. It was my honor to assist them during this time,” he said.
Contributions in Caroline Previdi’s memory may be made to “The Toy Chest,” St. Rose of Lima Church, 46 Church Hill Road, Newtown CT 06470.
Weston Forum Editor Kimberly Donnelly contributed to this story.