Gun Manufacturer Offers Families of Sandy Hook Massacre Victims $33 Million, Far Less What Which Families Asked For

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Remington, the gun manufacturer that made assault rifle used in the murder of 20 children and 6 adults in one of the worst school shootings in US history, has offered a settlement of $33m to be split by nine of the victims' families.

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Children at vigil held for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, 2012.Valley Independent/Josalee Thrift

I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was living in Weatogue Connecticut at the time, which is just outside West Hartford.

I was preparing a lecture for a psychology course I was teaching at one of the local universities. It was a Friday and I didn’t have class until Tuesday but I liked to be ahead several lectures to makes sure I was timing the semester right.

I remember thinking it was going to a perfect Friday leading into a perfect weekend. I had plans with some friends who were driving in from out of town and that night we had tickets to a show of impressionists at one of the nearby casinos and wanted to take full advantage of the shopping, eating, with a little gambling thrown in. The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of activities.

Little did I know at the time that none of that was going to happen. Shortly after 10:00am on the morning of December 14, 2012, my phone rang and that call would change my plans and my life.

The person on the other end was whispering and it took me a minute to recognize the voice. It was a police officer who I knew fairly well. I had volunteered with him at the Pentagon command center where the families of the Pentagon victims were staying after 9/11.

We had become friends quickly through that situation. Traumatic situation often forges quick bonds. We also were in a writing group together held at the Newtown Public Library, the town where Sandy Hook Elementary School is located.

My friend had seen me working with the families of the 9/11 victims and decided to do something that wasn’t entirely kosher. When this happened, the focus was getting the crisis under control and getting the children and staff out of the building safely. At the beginning, before they were certain the shooting was over, no one had yet mobilizesd the state trauma counselors.

My friend told me what was going on and asked how quickly I could get there. He said he wasn’t certain he could get me in. But he wanted to try so there would be at least one person there focused exclusively on the families and trusted me to be that one. It normally took me about 50 minutes to make that drive. That day I did it in 35.

When I got there, my friend spotted me, and said he’d gotten tentative approval for me to support the parents as it would be at least another couple of hours before the state trauma team arrived. He introduced me to the head of operations and told methere were two parents waiting for word on their children who were in our writing group.

It was right about then word came out that both the Principle and School Psychologist had been killed. I was told by the head of the detail I was going in as a supportive friend of two of the families only and to stay within those parameters.

I was then handed a bullet proof vest and told to put it on. That was when I fully realized the nature of the situation. The head of the detail got another message and told me that they believed it was over and that the shooter had committed suicide. But they couldn’t be sure until the cleared the school, got everyone out and searched it. He started to take me to the firehouse nearby where the families were waiting for news and suddenly everything went silent and we stopped seeing movement at the front of the school.

It was the first group of children being brought out. I felt my knees buckle and my friend held me up and helped me to the firehouse. Both of us hugged the families we knew. Some of the children saw parents already there. More children came in and were seated by grade to make it easier for parents to spot them.

More parents arrived and there were tears from families who found their child and fear in the eyes of parents whose children had not been brought out yet. Over the next few hours, head counts had been taken and most of the families had left with their children. The children of both of my friends had come out and the families had left.

I held hands, offered water and coffee, prayed with families when they asked, and sat silently waiting with the parents who hadn’t gotten news yet. I’m not sure what else I could have done at that time. At one point Governor Dannel Malloy came in to personally announce the number of children and staff lost, and to meet with each family individually. I have never been prouder of an elected official.

Once they’d identified who had survived and who hadn’t they took the families of the children who had died into another room with clergy members and grief counselors. When everyone had been identified, it was determined that 20 students ages 6 and 7, and six adults were killed by Adam Lanza, age 20. Before he arrived at school, Lanza shot and killed his mother Nancy Lanza. When police officers arrived and began approaching Lanza, he used a handgun to shoot and kill himself.

When all was said and done, it didn’t matter that none of the children were mine. Each time a final determination of a child's death was made and parents approached to receive the news it didn’t matter whose child they actual were. They were all our children.

The Law Suit and Settlement Offer

After it was learned that the semi-automatic rifle used in the Sandy Hook massacre was made by Remington family members of the victims filed a lawsuit against the company claiming that the military-style weapon should never have been sold to the public. They also alleged the company targeted younger, at-risk males in their marketing and advertised using product placement in violent video games.

"Since this case was filed in 2014, the families’ focus has been on preventing the next Sandy Hook,” said Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the families. “An important part of that goal has been showing banks and insurers that companies that sell assault weapons to civilians are fraught with financial risk.”

Remington argued in defense of the lawsuit, filed in 2014, that Lanza is the only person responsible for the killings, and that his firearm, which belonged to Lanza’s mother, was legally manufactured and sold.

Remington attempted to avoid responsibility by first claiming it was protected by a 2005 law that prevents gun-manufacturers from being found liable if their products are used in crimes.

In the years since the shooting, Remington, the oldest gunmaker in the U.S., has sought bankruptcy protection on two separate occasions. The company first filed for protection in 2018 after a number of lawsuits and restricted gun retail sales caused it to experience financial problems.

During its 2018 bankruptcy filing, Remington was allowed to discard $775 million in debt, The New York Times reported. As part of its restructuring plan, the company transferred ownership to it’s creditors, including Franklin Templeton Investments and J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Families of the Sandy Hook massacre fought against this deal, fearing that it would prevent the company from being held accountable for the death of their children. However, in 2019, the Supreme Court allowed the case against Remington to proceed.

The company filed again for Chapter 11 protection in July of 2020 in the U.S. gun Bankruptcy Court for Northern District of Alabama In the filing, Remington listed between $100 million and $500 million in assets and liabilities, and between 1,000 and 5,000 creditors.

The Settlement

Yesterday, Remington, the maker of the rifle that was used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, offered some of the victims' families almost $33 million to settle their lawsuit over how the company marketed the firearm to the public.

Lawyers for the now-bankrupt company filed the settlement offers late Tuesday in the Waterbury Superior Court in Connecticut. The nine families suing the company, who are being offered nearly $3.7 million each, are said to be considering the proposals, according to their lawyers said.

The offer is considerably less than the amount the families were asking for. In a February court filing, lawyers estimated the wrongful death claims for the families of all the victims in the lawsuit in excess of $225m, which would be over $1bn when punitive damages were added.

Koskoff, said the families “would consider their next steps” in response to the offer made by Remington, a company based in Alabama that was one of the countries oldest, largest and most well-known gun manufacturers before filing for bankruptcy in 2018.

. . .

Despite the deaths of young children aged six and seven, no new national gun control laws were passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

The Story of the Sandy Hook Massacre

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