As the end of 2013 approaches, the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission is stepping back momentarily to regroup and refocus its efforts, according to member and former Newtown state representative Christopher Lyddy, who sits on the panel.
The panel met for the final time this year on December 20 to review details from the recently released state prosecutor’s report on the mass shooting at Sandy Hook School on 12/14. The commissioners adjourned that meeting after calling for more information about shooter Adam Lanza’s mental state, and what level of access he had to treatment, before any substantial recommendations concerning mental health policy can be tendered.
“We are regrouping to really refocus on what we’ve learned from the state’s attorney’s report,” Mr Lyddy said. “We’re in the process of dialoguing about our priorities, and what the charge is in terms of what kind of report or recommendations we ought to make. I think we’re at the point where we’re starting to sift through it to decide what kind of recommendations are on the table.”
He said the commission’s charge is to look at public policy related to gun laws, school safety, mental health programs, and to then make recommendations to Governor Dannel Malloy, who seated the panel shortly after the tragedy.
What complicates the commission’s work, Mr Lyddy said, are the many simultaneous processes that are playing out with various agencies focusing on the incidents of 12/14, everything from an analysis of law enforcement response by a consortium of police chiefs to an investigation through the State Child Advocates’ Office.
“I think it’s also a great opportunity because all those reports that are coming out, and all the different groups working on the various issues [related to 12/14] can really help inform the work we are doing,” Mr Lyddy said. “And while it’s been pointed out that we don’t have subpoena power to access certain records about the shooter and the situation, I don’t know that we necessarily need all that access.”
Mr Lyddy said there was an assumption that once the state’s attorney’s report came out, there would be a wealth of information about the shooter and his background.
“But there really wasn’t a lot of information that was disclosed,” he said. “And while this left us with more questions than answers, for me, that’s OK because now we know what questions to ask. I’m more hopeful than maybe some other panelists in terms of the direction we’re moving.”
He said it does not make sense to expect a law enforcement report specifically designed to determine whether there will be any further prosecutory action to address issues regarding mental health.
“We need to be patient and thoughtful about the questions we’re asking, and who we are asking for answers,” Mr Lyddy said.
In reviewing the report released by State’s Attorney Stephen J. Sedensky III on November 25, Mr Lyddy said he formed the opinion that no one single analysis could possibly hold all the answers.
“I really had to remind myself that the state’s attorney’s report represents just one perspective, one snapshot into a criminal investigation. It’s not a psychological investigation, it’s not a womb-to-tomb analysis of the shooter. It’s just going to give me a little more insight into what happened.”
Mr Lyddy said he is really trying to isolate the information inherent in each report as they continue to be released. And when it came to the prosecutor’s report, “it was really his job to determine if anybody was going to be prosecuted.”
“Everything else in that report — what was found, what his home looked like — there’s really nothing conclusive about the criminality of the situation,” he said. “But it does give us some leads about where to go next.”
Mr Lyddy said he believes the commissioners need to be careful when considering who to invite to testify, particularly the shooter’s father, Peter Lanza.
“We need to consider what are the specific questions we need to have answered,” he said. “With regard to inviting Peter Lanza, I need to work at framing the intention of not only hearing from him, but inviting him to our panel in the first place. Are we the best group to ask those questions?
“I think this panel has a broader charge — really big picture items. I’m not clear in my own mind what Peter Lanza will have to offer,” he added. “What is the public benefit of having him come before us, and what questions can we ask to better inform our job to help make policy changes?”
Mr Lyddy agreed that Mr Lanza may be able to provide some of those answers, but he is not interested in inviting anyone to appear before the panel unless they can provide solid value to the work the commission is doing.
He feels the same way about accessing medical and mental health records.
“I sit on the child fatality review panel, and we’ve charged the Child Advocate to investigate the mechanism by which these 20 children did. She has the power to subpoena documents and the ability to review those documents through a system lens to determine what works and if we missed anything,” Mr Lyddy said. “She is more equipped to go through that process much more thoughtfully, and with more resources. I think she can better inform our end report to recommendations, similar to the State Police report we are expecting.”
In the end, Mr Lyddy said he will feel he has been a successful and relevant contributor to the panel by best representing the people of Newtown.
“As the former state representative from Newtown, I want to bring a voice that helps the panel remember and honor the Newtown community in our work. I’m that constant on the panel,” he said.
He also wants to contribute professionally to whatever future programming and policies eventually result to bring assistance to those children and families facing similar crises, as well as the thousands of victims of similar crimes Connecticut has seen over the years.
“I think there is a personal and professional contribution I am making,” Mr Lyddy said. “And also really helping the panel to slow down. We have a tendency to be reactive to situations, especially when we perceive a threat or danger.
“But when there is no immediate threat, and we have an opportunity to slow down and think about what is important here, and what to do with the answers we get — we can really make a meaningful contribution to all the people we serve.”