Parents of Sandy Hook victims critical of state, local response

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NEWTOWN--The governor’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is almost finished gathering the information necessary to make formal recommendations on changes to the state’s mental health, school safety and gun violence prevention measures.

Today, one of the final pieces to the puzzle came together: meeting with parents of some of the victims of the Newtown shooting. One mother wasn't mincing words. “Too many decisions were and continue to be made for victims families and not with our voices,” said Jennifer Hensel, mother of Avielle Richman, one of the 26 victims to die in the tragedy.

Hensel’s husband, Jeremy Richman, and Nelba Marquez-Greene--the mother another victim, Ana Marquez-Greene--told the members of the commission they have not had anyone from the state or local level seek their input as to how they could have better responded to their needs.

In response to the parents feeling like outsiders, commission head Scott Jackson, the mayor of Hamden, said, “That was interesting and surprising. It's certainly not something I had thought of before.” But, he welcomed their feedback, nonetheless.

The majority of Hensel’s message dealt with triage protocol. She said the fact that there were mass shootings prior to Sandy Hook, she’s disappointed Connecticut was not ready. “Establishing an immediate chain of command at the victim family staging area is critical,” said Hensel, who added that when children were being brought to the family staging area officials had no idea how to handle the parents who didn't get matched up with their children.

“We had to ask a state trooper three times to move us to another area along with other parents still waiting for word on their kids,” said Hensel. “They were discussing what we should do, where we should go, what do we do with the surviving children.”

Another staging area concern: establishing tight security, including keeping the media away from the grieving families.

“Not all media and not all press and not all journalists and not all reporters are equal in their integrity,” said Hensel. She mentioned a  gentleman who had gotten into the staging area and told her he was a doctor. When he asked how he could help her, she asked him what his specialty was. When he stammered, she reported him to police, who threw him out.

The parents were also unified in their belief that, in response to future tragedies, mental health professionals on the case be trained in crisis management. Hensel said she and her husband went through three mental health experts in a matter of two days because those individuals were unprepared for what they were facing.

Jackson, who says the commission is roughly 85 percent complete with its report, says the commission will recommend that regional and statewide crisis management teams be put in place to address these parents' concerns. Jackson noted that the final report will not be submitted until the Office of the Child Advocate completes and releases its findings on the shooter's schooling records.

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