HARTFORD — It was a quiet December morning at the state Capitol.
State officials were working in their offices, and most of the top leaders in the building — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, incoming House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, and House Republican leader Larry Cafero — planned to gather at a Christmas luncheon there starting at noon.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who was back in Connecticut on Friday morning from Washington, D.C., also hoped to attend.
At mid-morning, a plainclothes state trooper who is a member of the security detail walked into Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman's office and said there had been a shooting in Newtown. Only minutes earlier, at 9:41 a.m., a 911 call had come into local police about a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The initial details were sketchy. Some early media reports said that one person had been shot — in the foot.
Based on those early reports, Blumenthal went ahead with a press conference at 10 a.m. at Simsbury town hall regarding military dogs who work for the U.S. Department of Defense.
But the news became progressively worse.
Before long, Malloy, Wyman, and Blumenthal canceled their plans for the rest of the day and headed to Newtown, 48 miles down I-84.
As the day wore on, more details came out, and the news kept getting worse.
At the Capitol, legislators were stunned. When told of the most recent reports that 27 people were dead, Cafero reflexively covered his mouth in shock. Williams sat back onto a desk to absorb the news.
At 3 p.m., as President Obama was making an emotional statement to the nation about the mass murders in Connecticut, Malloy, Wyman and others were preparing for a press conference of their own in Newtown, the first of two they would have in Newtown on Friday. Blumenthal, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Senate Republican leader John McKinney were also there.
At the second press briefing at 6 p.m., Malloy addressed the state in a talk that lasted roughly three minutes.
"Evil visited this community today," he said.
"It's too early to speak of recovery, but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family has to understand that [in] Connecticut, we're all in this together, we'll do whatever we can to overcome this event. We will get through it, but this is a terrible time for this community and for these families."
The governor then mentioned the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I was mayor of Stamford on 9/11 when our state lost many of its citizens, and I lost a number of my fellow citizens and friends,'' Malloy said. "I never thought that in a public career that I would have to face these kinds of circumstances, or that they would visit themselves upon this community or the people of Connecticut."
He added, "Our prayers at this time have to go out to the families. ... The number one way to be helpful is to say a prayer or send a best wish or to be thinking of these individuals who have suffered so mightily today."
Three of the neighboring governors — Chris Christie of New Jersey, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island — all publicly expressed their condolences Friday and offered to help.
Out of respect for the families of 28 people who died Friday, Malloy, Wyman, and Blumenthal all declined interviews on the day's events.
McKinney, who represents Newtown, joined with Malloy in meeting with several parents and family members of the murdered victims.
In a statement released by his press office, McKinney said: "As a parent, I can barely begin to comprehend this unspeakable tragedy. I doubt I ever will, Today and in the days and weeks ahead, we need to be an extended family for all of the victims. We need to help our children and students cope, and recover, and feel safe again. We need to grieve and pray, and we need to help our neighbors through this."
Numerous activities and meetings were canceled in Connecticut and needed to be rescheduled. Christmas parties, for example, that were scheduled at the governor's mansion next week for the staff and for state troopers have been postponed.
Longtime House Republican spokesman Patrick O'Neil, who grew up in Newtown, said it was the most tragic incident in the small town since the "Hell's Angels'' shootout at the Sandy Hook Hotel at 109 Church Hill Road on July 31, 1975.
Two men were killed in the original shootout, and the hotel owner was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. The hotel owner, however, was killed about one year later when two men on motorcycles pulled up on either side of him at a traffic light and shot him dead. "It was a biker dispute,'' O'Neil said Friday. "It was infamous.''
By nightfall Friday, both Malloy and Blumenthal spoke at a vigil at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church on Church Hill Road in remarks that were broadcast on CNN.
Blumenthal told the mourners, "The hearts and prayers of America are with you tonight.''Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun