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Newtown parents express need for additional communication

David Wheeler and other Newtown parents addressed the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission on Friday about their recovery experiences since the shooting.
Francine Wheeler and her husband, David, whose son Ben was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at their home in Newtown, Conn., March 4, 2013.
Francine Wheeler and her husband, David, whose son Ben was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at their home in Newtown, Conn., March 4, 2013.

One Newtown parent on Friday gently expressed to a state commission how the local town agencies failed his family at providing initial assistance after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"When your life is changed in this way and you experience this kind of loss, you are starving for information. You are starving for reassurance that what is happening around you is appropriate and desirable. Inclusion, informationally, is the most important part of that," said David Wheeler, whose son Benjamin died in the tragedy.

He disclosed to the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission via teleconference that his family wasn't presented with direct contact to the superintendent's office until almost two weeks after the incident. They also didn't learn about a trauma team that had been established to help surviving relatives in the recovery process until June 2013, six months after tragedy struck their town.

"You need to be given the chance to decide how you interact with these processes. When you're not given that opportunity is when the isolation starts to build," he said, adding that the affected families and community are still in the early stages of recovery. 

The local town government didn't excel at the same level as the state agencies during its initial and long-term assistance for Newtown residents, he said.

Wheeler was one of two parents who addressed members of the group via teleconference on Friday about how their families and the town have dealt with the effects of the trauma in the past 18 months. The 16-member panel, created by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, has been reviewing current policies on school safety, mental health, and gun-violence prevention since the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting that killed 20 first-graders and six educators. Members are expected to file a final report later this summer.

The other parent, Michele Gay, whose daughter Josephine died inside the school, expressed her belief in the importance of training education for both teachers and students, advanced emergency communication plans, and recovery procedures involving mental health professionals. All aspects must, she added, bring together the combined perspectives of educators, law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, and parents.

Gay is a former teacher and now the founder of Safe and Sound, which aims to empower communities to improve school safety.

The meeting this week was meant to "instill some kind of hope that we can do better," said Scott Jackson, chairman of the commission and mayor of Hamden, Conn.

"It can be done, it just has to be planned and it has to be exercised," he said.

Related: Making a senseless tragedy meaningful in Newtown

Officials previously found "no conclusive motive" nor indication of why the gunman chose the nearly 400-student school as his target, msnbc previously reported. The tragedy was the second-worst school shooting in American history, after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people.

Gov. Malloy last year signed a bipartisan bill that requires universal background checks for all firearms purchasers and adds more than 100 guns to the state's previously existing list of banned weapons. A court in January upheld the constitutionality of the law.