EAST HARTFORD (AP) — Matthew Bell thought he would never again experience an event as momentous as the September 11 terrorist attacks, when he helped people evacuate lower Manhattan as a member of the Coast Guard.
Then came the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
The Connecticut state trooper remembered the chaos and heartbreak of the Newtown massacre as he and dozens of other people received state police awards Tuesday for their outstanding and meritorious service in response to the December 14, 2012, shooting.
Bell, 39, was among the first law enforcement officers to enter the school and see the carnage after gunman Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 first-graders and six educators. Lanza, who also killed his mother at their Newtown home before going to the school, shot himself to death as police arrived.
While receiving an award is an honor, Bell said, he's always been more concerned about the well-being of the victims' families. He said he and many other responders were traumatized by what they saw, but he can't imagine the pain of losing a child.
"I think we all lost a piece of ourselves at that school. But the families, they lost loved ones," Bell, a father of three, said after the awards ceremony inside the University of Connecticut's football stadium.