Connecticut police commend 'heroic' response to Sandy Hook massacre
Sandy Hook students escorted away from school - screencap

The "heroic actions" of teachers, school staff and first responders following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre of 26 young children and educators at Newtown elementary school may have prevented the death toll from being even higher, Connecticut State Police said in a report released on Friday.

The 74-page report detailed state police response to the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School, one of the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history.

A 20-year-old gunman armed with a high-powered assault rifle launched his attack on Dec. 14, 2012, at the school in a wealthy New York commuter suburb, after killing his mother at their home. He ended the rampage by shooting himself as he heard the sirens of approaching police vehicles.

The response to the attack "was handled effectively. Had it not been for the heroic actions of the teachers, school staff and the response force, the number of victims could have been higher," the report said.

The report included a series of recommendations, some based on harsh criticism sparked by hours-long delays in notifying families of the deaths of the 20 children and six school staff.

"Accurate and timely death notification to victims' families should be one of the highest priorities," the report said. "Delays in notification were a great source of frustration for agency personnel ... and added confusion, frustration, and stress for the family members."

The report also recommended ramping up police body armor to increase the ballistic protection, noting that the standard armor provided to troopers would not have protected them from the Sandy Hook gunfire or possibly another active shooter situation, the report said.

There should also be better mental health assistance for first responders to a tragedy like Sandy Hook, the report said.

"The magnitude of this incident, especially given the age and number of victims, certainly had an impact on all responding personnel," the report said.

After-action reports have become standard practice for U.S. law enforcement and are intended to improve response.

Similar reports were published after mass shootings dating back to the deadly 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 12 dead.

The Sandy Hook massacre inflamed the long-running U.S. debate over the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment of the Constitution. States including Connecticut and New York passed laws limiting the possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines like those used in the attack, though federal efforts stalled in Congress.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Catherine Evans and Leslie Adler)