When Redding police Chief Douglas Fuchs heard the 911 call Friday morning on Newtown’s police radio about gunshots at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he immediately went to the school.
“Our radios are cross-programmed,” he said.
Officer Jason Heibeck and Sgt. Anthony Signore were pulled off their side jobs and responded to Newtown as well, where a lone gunman killed 20 first grade children and six adults at the school, including its principal.
After he first arrived, Chief Fuchs said, it became apparent this would be the type of situation where there would be many victims, so an ambulance was brought in from Redding Fire and EMS Co. #1.
“The three of us were there for the duration of the day,” he said. “Once it was determined that the scene was secure, Officer Heibeck and Sgt. Signore assisted with site security,” said Chief Fuchs. By virtue of the fact that there was no other ranking officer at the Sandy Hook firehouse, where children were being taken from the school, he began what he called “the reunification process.”
A vast majority of parents arrived on scene within 45 minutes and were reuniting with their children who were evacuated from the school, he said.
“We then began the process of IDing parents who had no students [to reunite with],” he said.
Sgt. Pat Daubert of the Weston Police Department told The Weston Forum, The Pilot’s sister newspaper, that he helped reunite parents with their children at the Sandy Hook firehouse, and he credited Chief Fuchs with creating order among chaos and 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.
Chief Fuchs said that one of the greatest accomplishments to come from this was the pairing of a police officer with every single family who lost someone.
“Twenty-six officers were assigned to families. They were assigned that morning and are staying with them until they are no longer needed,” he said.
Officer Heibeck and Sgt. Signore were both assigned a family and were responsible for notifying parents about the loss of their children. “They’ve been at the house every day. They brought the families to the vigil on Sunday and will bring them to the wakes and funerals,” said Chief Fuchs.
“With traffic being such a mess in Newtown, they can get them through traffic and get them where they need to go. If the media calls or tries to bother the family, the family can call the officer and he will assist as needed,” he said. “That’s what they did.”
Chief Fuchs assisted in making the identification process of the victims as easy as possible for the criminal investigation.
“And I won’t go into further detail on that,” he said.
Since Friday, Redding has had a police officer assigned to Newtown to assist with patrol or other posts that had to be established, including the presidential detail at Sunday’s vigil, he said.
“The most important thing was shadowing [officers] as best we can along with 15 other police departments — shadowing the officers and the chief,” said Chief Fuchs. “We tried very hard to pair out-of-town officers with a Newtown police officer. Since hour one, there was a neighbor officer and chief (Chief Fuchs) with the Newtown police.”
Chief Fuchs said this was a decision made years ago.
If for any reason “we’d just show up and shadow. Make sure they’re not alone and have someone with them,” he said.
When President Barack Obama announced he was coming to Newtown on Sunday, more manpower was needed to cover the presidential detail with the Secret Service.
“Newtown’s chief would be that point person for the Secret Service, but he asked me to do it,” said Chief Fuchs.
“Saturday evening and Sunday morning my time was spent with the Secret Service and the event in Newtown. I put together the detail of officers to handle that type of visit. We had 41 officers from six different police departments there last night [Sunday],” he said.
Redding police will continue to assist Newtown along with every other department as long as they are needed, he said.
“I’ve been a police officer for 24 years and I have never cried in the line of duty. That all changed on Friday,” said Chief Fuchs. “I would say the same for Officer Heibeck and Sgt. Signore.”