I am but one of many members of this small community, which, until Friday was largely unknown even to Connecticut residents. You could blink and miss the village of Sandy Hook as you drove by, the two barbershops, the diner, a small toy store and little more. A small river runs through, but you almost need to be walking in town to notice it. Just up the way is a park, the local firehouse that hosts a wonderful lobster fest every summer and a small school.
My two sons both attended Sandy Hook Elementary when they were young boys. Now grown, my youngest, who just had his fourteenth birthday last week, was safely down the road at the Middle school Friday morning. Yet I share, as does our whole community and the nation, the shock and profound heartache at the events that took place here.
Words fail me. I don’t know how to express what is in my heart for these families, for our neighbors. The senseless and tragic loss of so many, of those so young and those dedicated to protecting and enriching them as they grew, is beyond my ability to describe.
The news came out slowly and kept changing. The first to reach me was from my wife, a call pulling me out of a meeting to tell me the schools were locked down all over Newtown as a result of a shooting. She wanted to let me know it was not at our son’s school. No one knew, then, the direness of the situation. My mind pictured a single injury, an accidental shooting perhaps. Nothing could prepare any of us for the sheer horror of the truth. Even though my son was safe, the few details that I could access on my mobile phone had me feeling sick all day. But it was only when I arrived home that evening, seeing the reports and footage on TV, that it really took a hold of me.
I recognized landmarks of my town in news footage but I couldn’t reconcile the images I saw in the media with the place I know. I’ve walked the hallways of that school. Visited the offices, attended student art shows and book nights. I came in to be a guest reader in the kindergarten classroom years ago.
And now, the names and stories of those who lost their lives are being revealed. How could anyone not be moved to tears by the photos of those so innocent? How could hearing of these caring teachers and school officials heroically doing whatever they could to protect the children not break our hearts? Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist who lost her life trying to tackle the shooter with the principal, worked with my eldest son when he had problems focusing in class and directed us to an eye specialist who she thought could help.
I have always had a great admiration and respect for the teachers and faculty in our schools at Newtown. It was clear with every teacher’s meeting how deeply they cared about their students. It was evident in every event we attended, art nights, concert performances and celebrations, how devoted they were to the kids and their wellbeing. They worked hard to make our schools a true haven for our kids and did so with passion and joy. I cannot begin to express how their actions, in such an extreme situation, underscores what incredible human beings they are and were. Under gunfire, alerting the school to the danger by engaging the intercom. Rushing to bring down a man armed with an assault rifle to protect their school. Shielding the escape of children with one’s own body. Racing through the halls ahead of the gunman to warn others. Securing and hiding children, while keeping them calm and providing a sense of security under extreme duress. These are among the finest educators, the finest people, we could ever hope to have nurture our children and they are an inspiration to us all.
The words and actions of even the youngest of their charges reflects the same. From the child who, knowing karate, wanted to lead his teacher and classmates to safety to the six-year old boy, who having just witnessed the murder of his teacher, led a group of his friends to safety, even waiting for them before escaping himself. One can scarce believe the strength and humanity in ones so young.
Driving through town last night, my wife and I could not help but notice neighbors with police squad cars sitting outside, two just down the street from us. Far enough away that we did not know them personally, but now so close that I could not help but cry for them.
People closest to me know that I do not weep easily. Crying has never been a catharsis for me, as it is for so many. It seems only to heighten the intensity of my emotions rather than provide an outlet that brings me peace. So, when I am moved to tears, it is as a result of the most intense of feelings and tends not to relent easily. Every new detail, photo of a sweet face we’ve lost, every story of heroism I’ve heard in the last few days, brings tears which seem to be lying just under the surface, ready to break free. I mourn what has become a national loss.
Yet, if there can be any bright side to an event such as this, it is seeing the very best in people brought out by the very worst. Like Fred Rogers, I will choose to “look for the helpers” to come to grips with this tragedy. And here, in our amazing town, there are many.
To all those families, friends and neighbors so deeply impacted by these events, you have all of our love and support. We are with you, body and spirit.