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Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary parent comments on school tragedy

This message is from Steffan R. Burns, a parent of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student.

Stephanie had the conversation with William about the death of his first grade teacher-hero while I was at church.  Apparently William asked about those who had died as soon as he woke.  Must have been on his mind.  Though sad,  he spent the next 5 minutes comforting his mom.  The usual 2 two weeks before Christmas service at the Newtown Methodist Church,  in the heart of the old town of Sandy Hook, was nowhere to be found.  As the wake commenced, I found the music and words a bit overwhelming.  The gravity of the situation hit me pretty hard. Guess I hadn't really had time to think about what has been happening that deeply.  Organ music has a way of making you retreat into the recesses of your own mind.

I took Anna and William back to the local retail garden center to see the Santa they met last week.  He has seen us every year since 2004 and I thought he would appreciate seeing that they had made it through.  He was very appreciative. . . . on second thought,  Santa should have known that they were OK without us having to show up.  

We got news of the first two funerals to be held this week.  Never thought they would be scattered throughout the area. . . turns out there is only one funeral home in Newtown.

Tonight we attended the vigil at Newtown's High School with a host of clergy, town officials, various politicians, Blumenthal, Lieberman, Governor Malloy, and President Obama.  . . and we got more than we bargained for. . 4 rows behind the President and directly along side the families who lost children.  William sat between Stephanie and me.  Erin was next to me as well, quiet,  learning, coping. . taking it all in. . an emerging adult.  Anna was particularly brave as she sat next to Mr and Mrs. Wheeler, who lost  their son Benjamin.  

While we were waiting for the event to begin, it hit us this event that there were 30 + Secret Service  and dozens of extra police to protect the President, 1 person.  How do you ever put together enough security to protect 450 students ? . . you just can't.  

The President did a nice job addressing the tragedy without getting too political (just an opinion).  He mentioned that taking care of our children is our first and most important job and how we do that is how, as a society,  we will be judged. . . . . . .   I am sure there were those thinking that the Newtown - Sandy Hook community, truly capable,  had failed.

When Stephanie and I moved to Newtown, I remember how impressed we were with the strong school system and the quality and variety of the programs and activities for kids.  Over the last 9 and 1/2 years this has proved to be a true community where the family comes first.  It's a small slice of New England, but not too small.  However, you do have to always keep in mind that is you get a traffic ticket here, it will be in the Newtown Bee the next week (along with your age).

At bedtime, William had  a lot of questions.  When will we be going back to school?  When will we be able to get back into the Sandy Hook Elementary?  Will they fix the glass doors and metal frames . . . and finally. . Do you think my snack from Friday will still be in my classroom?    

Thank God he still has the capacity to be 7 years old.

Yesterday morning I was first in line to meet with grief counselors to ask them how to tell a 7 year old the magnitude of the events that happened on Friday.  The answer, as if to everything was, it depends.  Since William is an intelligent, matter-of fact kind of little guy, the consensus was to keep it short but not to hide anything.  About 9:30 am, we sat outside with William giving him the basic facts and magnitude of the events.  He drank up all the information he was given and preceded to tell us a bit more about what he saw as he exited the building. In the afternoon he would tell one of the neighbor boys that he had prayed  to God that he would not die while he was huddled in the classroom during the lock down.  

This morning we will sit down with William and tell him that his first grade teacher, Ms Soto, died, apparently trying to shield the kids in her room.

We tried to make the day as normal a day as we could for the kids.  We all went out to cut down a Christmas tree (at William's suggestion).  Then we went to lunch in town.  After that, grocery shopping, though I would admit, I do remember thinking all 5 of us grocery shopping might not have been normal.  At least there are 5 of us.

The list came out last night.  I didn't realize how much we were waiting on it until it arrived. Stephanie knows at least a half dozen of the children's families and 4 of the 6 adults.  Three of the victims live in the neighborhood.  3 or 4 others, within a mile.

I drove out to get a couple of newspapers this morning.  The roads in the neighborhood are still blocked by police near the Lanza home 2 turns from our own driveway.

In the center of Sandy Hook, there were news trucks with attached satellite dishes on top, from many more cities than yesterday.   I saw one from Detroit. As I passed the Newtown High School, I saw a long line of large dump trucks lined up in front of the main entrance.  I suppose they will build a security barrier or use the trucks to be a barrier for the vigil and president's visit tonight.

I heard on the radio that there is a possibility that the Sandy Hook Elementary School (whose colors are green and white),  may have died on Friday with the victims.  I hope not, but it would be understandable in light of the declining influx of young families since the beginning of the recession and the housing slow down.

This going to get worse for a while as we get the names of the kids. The shooter lived in my neighborhood, 2 streets over. They are broadcasting live as I write this.  Ironically, at least 2 of the victims live in our neighborhood and a short walk from the home of the shooter.

Stephanie is heavily involved in the school with the newsletter and other volunteer situations. We are dealing with her close relationship with the principal and others in the office as well as the fact that on any given day she might have been there working on these activities.

William is OK but he saw way too much for a 7 year old. He got sick over it yesterday afternoon. He only knows what he saw and not the magnitude of the situation.  This morning I will sit down with him and tell him what happened.  We also fear that William's first grade teacher, Ms. Soto, may have been impacted as well as many of her students.  Ms. Soto's classroom was just across from the main office where the events began.

I expect to go to a dozen funerals next week.

My entire family is shocked and saddened about the events that unfolded this morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, CT.  Many of you know that my son William is currently a second grader at this school.  My older girls, Erin 12 and Anna 10,  have moved on to other schools and were not on the scene.

William is safe and home and putting on a strong face.  Unfortunately, he saw quite a bit. He is a tough resilient kid and we will deal with it.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families involved.  We don't have names you can be sure we know these families. It's a small neighborhood.

Photo by Tomi Johnson

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