On Friday, December 14, 2012 the whole nation stopped what they were doing to watch the media coverage of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT. Twenty seven people were killed before the shooter took his own life—seven adults (including his own mother), and twenty children between the ages of six and seven.
Like every other parent in the nation I am outraged at these events, and at my own impotence to stop them. I can’t stop watching the news, can’t look away even though it breaks my heart to watch. I continue to watch the media coverage of the story because I hope that, by my minor suffering via the media, I can somehow share and ease their suffering.
I cried. Oh, how I cried.
For those poor innocent babies who were surely terrified in their last moments. I cried for the teachers who died trying to save their students. For the parents who anxiously asked themselves if their child would come out of that school alive, and especially for the parents for whom the ultimate answer to that question was no.
I think of the morning of December 14th, and how those twenty seven families didn’t know that day would be any different from December 13th.
I know what leaving my house in the morning can be like. There are arguments over what to wear, what not to wear, what to have for breakfast, and where in the world is that other shoe? All normal frustrations, but right now there are twenty families who are berating themselves, wishing they could take back that argument, preserve that one last moment with their precious child.
The hardest part: I don’t understand. No one does, and the one person who could explain killed himself.
I keep asking myself how much good my understanding would do. It won’t bring those people back. The survivors will still be scarred and traumatized for the rest of their lives. So what does my understanding of the shooter’s motivations buy me?
Maybe a psychologist could answer that. I can’t.
I heard President Obama speak right after the story broke. I listened to the broadcast on my way home. I sat in traffic with tears rolling down my face when I heard him stop in the middle of his speech. He took several deep breaths before continuing on to say those children had their entire lives in front of them.
I am cynical enough to understand that, as the President and as a politician, every move or statement he makes is calculated. Whether or not that pause and those deep breaths were planned, I believe he spoke as a representative of all parents that day. That he too found it very easy to see similarities between the faces of the victims and the faces of his own children.
The political arguments started almost immediately following the shooting. News stories about gun control and mental health, one side blasting away at the other. I even found one insultingly flippant article debating whether the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, had the authority to lower the flag to half mast over the capitol in honor of those who lost their lives that day. My faith in humanity was restored when I saw a scathing comment someone had left at the bottom of the piece: “What in the world is the point of this article?”
I don’t think the media is hounding the inhabitants of Newtown, CT out of malice. They are only giving the public what it is demanding—more information, more coverage, more details—because more than anything we want to understand, want to put these events into some sort of rational context.
There isn’t one.
I keep watching because when I see those parents, I see myself. When I see those poor beautiful babies that won’t ever have a chance to see what their lives could become, I see my own children. I want to gather them into a hug and protect them from the horrible cruelty of the world.
But I can’t.
Last night, like every night, I went home and checked my first grader’s school folder. Inside there was a notice from her school principal informing me that a Lockdown Drill was to be conducted on December 18th. The flier encouraged me to discuss the drill with my child to help alleviate any anxiety she might have. I asked my daughter a few questions about it. She didn’t seem frightened by the drill, but she did seem to sense the seriousness of it.
She did what any kid would do with a situation they don’t understand: she turned it into a game.
In her most authoritative tone, my daughter informed my son that they were going to have a Lockdown Drill. She cleared out our craft cabinet, leaving paper, crayons and a box of old Play-Doh sitting in a pile on the floor. Then she bundled the two of them into the small space.
I stopped breathing when, from the inside of the cabinet, I heard my daughter say, “Lockdown drill! Lockdown drill! Everyone get in your hiding places! Someone is breaking into the school!”
They took turns being “in lockdown”. My son had no idea what a lockdown drill was, though he found the game of hiding inside the cabinet great fun. He broke the rules of the game several times by leaving the cabinet before he was given the all clear.
His sister was gentle with him when he made this mistake, saying, “No, you can’t go out yet. Lockdown isn’t over.”
As terrible as it was to listen to, it was more terrible to consider the consequences if they didn’t practice.
Is this how the parents of the baby boomer generation felt when their children had drills instructing them how to respond to the threat of nuclear war? Are the lockdown drills of my children’s generation the equivalent of hiding under desks and covering their heads to protect against an atomic bomb?
Would a lockdown drill have made a difference in the Newtown, CT school shooting? Or, here’s a horrible thought, maybe lockdown drills did make a difference in the Newtown, CT incident. Maybe lockdown drills minimized the death toll to 26.
I don’t know what I will say to my children if they ever ask about these events. How can I honestly tell them they are safe when I know the parents of Newtown, CT would have said the same thing as recently as December 13?
I will not write the shooter’s name here, will not contribute to an immortality that he doesn’t deserve. Instead, I will give you the names of those who died that day in an act so violent and reprehensible that I lack adequate words to capture it.
This list is courtesy of an article Fox News published on December 17, 2012. You can read the entire article here, complete with mini biographies of each victim: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/12/17/officials-release-names-victims-in-connecticut-elementary-school-shooting/.
— Charlotte Bacon, Female, 02-22-06
— Daniel Barden, Male, 09-25-05
— Rachel D’Avino, Female, 07-17-83
— Olivia Engel, Female, 07-18-06
— Josephine Gay, Female, 12-11-05
— Ana Marquez-Greene, Female, 04-04-06
— Dylan Hockley, Male, 03-08-06
— Dawn Hochsprung, Female, 06-28-65
— Madeleine F. Hsu, Female, 07-10-06
— Catherine V. Hubbard, Female, 06-08-06
— Chase Kowalski, Male, 10-31-05
— Jesse Lewis, Male, 06-30-06
— James Mattioli, Male, 03-22-06
— Grace McDonnell, Female, 11-04-05
— Anne Marie Murphy, Female, 07-25-60
— Emilie Parker, Female, 05-12-06
— Jack Pinto, Male, 05-06-06
— Noah Pozner, Male, 11-20-06
— Caroline Previdi, Female, 09-07-06
— Jessica Rekos, Female, 05-10-06
— Avielle Richman, Female, 10-17-06
— Lauren Rousseau, Female, 06-?-82
— Mary Sherlach, Female, 02-11-56
— Victoria Soto, Female, 11-04-85
— Benjamin Wheeler, Male, 09-12-06
— Allison N. Wyatt, Female, 07-03-06
This holiday season, our nation is grieving for those victims and their families. We all want to help ease their burden, but we don’t know how. I have seen national condolence cards being signed on Facebook, and requests for monetary donations to support the families. Everyone mourns in their own way. Writing this post is my way.
I will give these victims and their families the best memorial I can think of:
Tonight I will go home, hug my children and be grateful that I have the chance to tell them how much I love them.
[I have disabled comments on this post, not because I am afraid of what others might respond, but because this post is my own small way of honoring those lost little souls. If you really wish to send me a comment, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading. ~Meghan]