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Appeal focuses on Sandy Hook officials’ actions before shooting

A lawyer claims officials failed to follow security protocol and order a lockdown that may have saved the lives of children and staff

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Officials stand outside of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where gunman Adam Lanza opened fire inside school killing 20 first-graders and six educators at the school.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. — Sandy Hook Elementary School officials failed to follow mandated security protocol and order a lockdown that may have saved lives immediately after the gunman shot his way through the locked entrance, a lawyer for the parents of two children killed in the massacre told a Connecticut appeals court on Wednesday.

Attorney Devin Janosov tried to convince three judges on the state Appellate Court that they should overturn a lower court ruling that dismissed the parents’ wrongful death lawsuit against the town of Newtown and its schools. It’s not clear when the judges will issue their decision.

A lawyer for the town, Charles DeLuca, argued that ordering a lockdown was discretionary and there was confusion among officials about what the noises were when gunman Adam Lanza was shooting his way through the school’s locked glass entrance in the chaotic first moments of the attack.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach rushed into a hallway to see what was happening and were killed. A third staff member was injured. Lanza went on to kill 20 first-graders and four other educators in two classrooms before fatally shooting himself on Dec. 14, 2012.

Janosov argued Hochsprung or other officials should have ordered a “code blue” lockdown over the intercom before going into the hallway, under school security protocol in place at the time. He said a lockdown would have alerted teachers to lock their classroom doors — possibly saving lives.

DeLuca disagreed.

“We’ll never know what Dawn Hochsprung thought it was,” he said of the first gunshots. “You can’t call a code blue unless you know there’s a reason to do so.”

Another lawyer for the parents, Donald Papcsy, said after the court hearing that the shooting sounds made by an AR-15-type rifle like the one Lanza used are unmistakable.

The parents of Jesse Lewis and Noah Pozner are hoping their lawsuit prompts school officials to follow security procedures during future emergencies. They also are seeking damages. Earlier in the case, they offered to settle the lawsuit for $11 million.

Neil Heslin, Jesse’s father, attended the court arguments. He said after the hearing that while he blamed Lanza for the killings, the school system should be held accountable for lapses in security protocol.

“If a code blue was called ... it would have made it possible for all the teachers to realize to lock their doors,” he said.

The arguments came on the same day that a Florida teenager who authorities say was obsessed with the Columbine school shooting and may have been planning an attack in Colorado was found dead in an apparent suicide after a nearly 24-hour search. That incident came just ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine massacre.

Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, killed his mother at their Newtown home before going to the school, where he killed himself as police arrived. The motive remains unclear. Connecticut’s child advocate said Lanza’s severe and deteriorating mental health problems, his preoccupation with violence and access to his mother’s legal weapons “proved a recipe for mass murder.”

Last year, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robin Wilson dismissed the lawsuit over the Sandy Hook security protocols, citing government immunity.

“Emergencies, by their very nature, are sudden and often rapidly evolving events, and a response can never be one hundred percent scripted and directed,” Wilson wrote.

“To say that the faculty and staff of the school were to act in a prescribed manner in responding to an emergency situation would likewise be illogical and in direct contradiction to the very purpose of governmental immunity: allowing for the exercise of judgment without fear of second-guessing,” she wrote.