policeLong before the cops from Newtown, Connecticut decided to speak with The New York Times about the horrors they discovered inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, they were heroes. These were the men who ran toward gunfire to rescue children from a madman. And today we are learning just what it was they ran into.

Of the seven police officers who opened up to the Times were several who had never before spoken to the press. Their stories are hard to read, but even harder to turn away from because they represent all at once true horror and true heroism in America.

These police officers, many of them parents, were faced with what many of us couldn't bear to watch from the safety of our own homes, cuddled up with our own kids. But unlike us, they had to face it. They had to act.

Not only did they, but as these details related by the Newtown officers show, it was with true grace:

1. As the surviving children were led out of the building, officers created a human curtain around the dead bodies of Principal Dawn Hochsprung and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, while others blocked the doors of classrooms filled with dead bodies, so the survivors would be spared the sight.

2. Officers found a little girl with a faint pulse in one room. Rushed outside to an ambulance, the girl was told, "You’re safe now; your parents love you," by Officer William Chapman, who'd cradled her in his arms and ran her out of the school. The little girl did not survive.

3. When School Resource Officer Leonard Penna entered one room, he found that all the children inside were dead. All, that is, but one. Covered in blood, the girl was shocked but unhurt. As soon as he was sure the gunman was dead, he ran the little girl out of the building, straight to a triage area.

4. As more police arrived on the scene, early responders warned officers who had children to back down rather than making them live through the horrors.

5. As Detective Jason Frank collected evidence, he was faced with the same monster truck backpack his 6-year-old carries, and unfinished Christmas ornaments drying on a windowsill that will never be carried home to parents.

There is more, much more, from the officers who have spent the past six weeks struggling to make sense of a national tragedy. Each details is hard to bear, and even harder to imagine living through. But these officers did it, and every day since, they've been reliving it.

What would you say to these officers if you could?

 

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