HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A panel charged by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with recommending a broad range of state policy changes after the deadly Newtown school shooting began its work Thursday, urged to focus on the issue of mental health and how it can intersect with gun violence.
The panel embarked on the task as the top prosecutor in the case, Danbury State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, said he's prevented from turning over information about the shooter's mental health background.
But Malloy said even though the mental condition the late shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, won't be available to the commission, he believes the group can address ways to improve mental health care and reduce the stigma of seeking treatment, a key focus of the 16-member panel of experts.
"That incident is an isolated incident, but we know a lot about other incidences and mental health issues," he said, adding how Vice President Joe Biden's recommendations to the president also looked beyond the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "We know a lot about mental health. We know that mental health treatment is stigmatized in the United States to a greater extent than it is in many other countries and we need to move in a direction where it is less stigmatized."
Sedensky, meanwhile, said the case remains under investigation and could take until June before a report is ready from the state police. He acknowledged, however, that no prosecution "appears on the horizon" for the crime that left 20 first graders and six educators dead. Lanza also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at the Newtown home they shared and later committed suicide as police approached the school.
Sedensky said while Lanza's mental health information is privileged, he expressed a willingness to work with the commission, which is charged with the wide-ranging task of reviewing school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention and providing the governor with recommendations for law and policy changes.
"Anything that would not encumber or somehow hinder the investigation, we will try to provide you with," Sedensky said. "At the same time, we may have limitations based on the confidentiality, but we will strive to get you what you need."
Commission members on Thursday received advice from two members of similar panels created after school shootings that occurred in Colorado and Virginia.
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, a member of the panel that reviewed the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, urged the Connecticut group to focus on the intersection of mental health and gun violence. He said "incident after incident" since Columbine has shown there's a relationship between the two issues.
"What we don't want is a policy debate in this country, I think, or in Connecticut, that gets locked down around the polar opposites around gun control or the polar opposites around mental health or mental health funding," Ritter said. "Part of this has to be this broad discussion and a discussion about the intersection."
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