A nation grievesPosted: December 17, 2012
Twenty precious children and 7 adults gunned down by a man with access to incredibly powerful weaponry defies logic. My brain understands the words involved in this story, but I struggle to process them.
The angel wings hanging from the elementary school sign crush me. The irony of the “Visitors Welcome” addendum to the school sign hurts my heart.
President Obama visited Newtown, Connecticut, last night and spoke to the grieving townspeople. It was his fourth time during his tenure to speak to a town ripped apart by gun violence. He came as our country’s Chief Executive, but also — and perhaps more importantly — as a father. He finished writing his speech on Air Force One as he made his approach into this small, close-knit Connecticut town. One of the things he said in his speech was “I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.”
True, Mr President, so true.
Mere words are virtually powerless in the face of such an unimaginable tragedy, and yet we try.
Newtown Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver had the unthinkably horrific job of performing autopsies on the shooting victims, the majority of whom were just 6 and 7 years old.
Carver did not mince words about the abject horror of the wounds suffered by the gunman’s victims. He said that all of the victims were hit multiple times, some as many as 11 times; 2 children were shot at “extremely close range.” The victims suffered “devastating” wounds by a weapon that delivers bullets “designed in such a fashion (that) the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullets stay in.” He added that he knows of no one who hunts with such a weapon because “the bullets are so fast that they break up and spray the targets with bits of lead.” The Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle unleashed on these sweet babies and the school employees is known for its easy handling and deadly accuracy.
Carver, whose wife is an infectious disease doctor, says he’s learned from her to look at issues in an “epidemiological sense.” I’ve spent a fair amount of time with a team of infectious disease doctors, thanks to a nasty post-mastectomy infection, so I completely understand what he means by this. He went on to say this: ”Firearms are like any other pathogen,” he said. “The more bacteria in the water supply the more people get diarrhea. The more weapons in a society the more people get shot.”
Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said Sunday that the shooter used “multiple” 30-round rifle magazines in the attack. Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Chiefs of Police Firearms Committee, says of the Bushmaster, “The way it looks, the way it handles — it screams assault weapon.” He added that the gun’s practical application is little more than “a combat weapon.” The Bushmaster rifle was also used by the D.C.-area sniper who killed 10 people in 2002.
While I don’t want to lose sight of the tragedy by going off on a gun-control tangent, the issue can hardly be ignored. The issue is rife with complications, but at some point public safety must prevail, regardless of politics. With an estimated 300 million guns in the hands of U.S. citizens, it’s easy to say it’s too late, but the innocent children of Sandy Hook deserve better. While I personally support the wealth of freedoms we in this country enjoy, at some point we need to get real about the freedom to bear arms. I seriously doubt that the framers of the U.S. Constitution could have in their wildest dreams imagined modern-day weaponry and the undeniably mentally unstable people who use those weapons to mow down innocent people at gas stations, in movie theaters, and in schools and universities.
I imagine that our founding fathers would scoff at the people who cling to the Second Amendment as rationale for owning assault weapons. Read the exact text of the Second Amendment and explain to me how it applies to assault weapons. Please. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Much has been written in the last few days about that “well-regulated Militia,” and people continue to screech about their need to keep guns in order to ensure their personal safety. However, we are hardly at risk of being attacked by indigenous peoples upon whose territory we’ve infringed, nor are we forming a new government or breaking free of Great Britain. The attacks we are vulnerable to nowadays have nothing to do with a militia and everything to do with assault rifles and mental illness.
The way I interpret it, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure security, not erode it. Allowing guns of all types to fall into the hands of anyone with money to buy them or happenstance of being in the presence of them, as was the case of the Newtown shooter, hardly seems to speak to security. While gun laws vary from state to state, the law in Connecticut prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from buying or carrying a gun. Yet the guy who opened fire on Sandy Hook Elementary School was 20 years old. The guns belonged to his mother, who is also now dead at the hands of this young man, and while her guns were purchased legally and registered, they were used to kill innocent people. How is it that her right to bear arms supersedes 20 children’s right to not be gunned down in school? How is it that the Second Amendment trumps the lives of the principal, school counselor, and teachers who died trying to shield and save their pupils? Why must our lives be marginalized by a “right” to protect oneself from a threat that may never materialize?
Unlike the words spoken by our President last night, my mere words cannot even begin to scratch the surface of what I want to say, and what needs to be said. So I will let the images do the talking.
A wreath containing the names of the victims reminds of us the proximity of this horrific tragedy to Christmas. I imagine presents for those 20 children, perhaps already wrapped and placed under the family’s tree, or perhaps hiding in the truck of Dad’s car or in the cool dark of the attic, waiting to be unveiled after the kids are asleep on Christmas Eve.
A woman grieves under a wall of candles, flowers, and stuffed animals while holiday lights twinkle in the nearby trees. To juxtapose the holiday festivities and the enormous loss of life is almost too much to bear.
Eric Mueller, a high school art teacher, created a memorial made from wooden angels. I wonder if he assigned the different hair colors based on photos of the victims.
Hordes of items placed at a memorial site. The legos in the front are simply heartbreaking.
A man played his violin as people approached the memorial site, his hand-lettered sign reading: “Our tears are on your shoulders, and are hands are in yours.”
Someone lovingly created a teddy-bear memorial, with each bear noting the name and age of the victims, then wrapped in plastic to sustain the wintry weather.
A young boy walks past a line of Christmas trees decorated for the victims.
The sight of brave and burly firefighters kneeling bare-headed and respectfully in front of the school sign is powerful, and one can only imagine what was going through the heads of these first-responders as they grappled with the unspeakable evil that permeated their town — the town they devote their lives to keeping safe.
Across town, firefighters draped a fire truck in black.
Tracy Kirk lit a candle for each victim.
People around the world shared our sorrow. Here, people in Bangalore, India, pay their respects.
A woman lays flowers at a memorial site on Copacabana Beach in Rio.
And the victims.
Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, was described by ABC News as “a 5-foot-2-inch raging bull lifesaver.” She confronted the gunman head-on in her attempt to stop him.
School psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, also hurled herself at the gunman in an attempt to keep her students safe. She and Hochsprung are believed to be the first victims at the school.
First-grade teacher Victoria Soto, 27, is described as a hero who died shielding her students from the gunman.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, was a special education teacher at Sandy Hook who is described as artistic, fun-loving, witty, and hardworking.
Rachel D’Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist who worked with autistic kids. Her fiancée was planning to propose to her on Christmas Eve.
Lauren Rousseau, 30, had just been hired at Sandy Hook last month. She was substituting for a teacher out on maternity leave.
And the children.
Charlotte Bacon, 6, begged her mother to let her wear the new dress and pink boots that were supposed to be for Christmas. Her mother acquiesced, and it was the last outfit her young daughter would ever pick out for herself. Charlotte’s family described her thus: ”She was going to go some places in this world” “This little girl could light up the room for anyone.”
Daniel Barden, 7, was a fireball who had recently lost his two front teeth. The youngest of three children, his family described him as a constant source of laughter and joy.
Olivia Engel, 6, was the teacher’s pet, the line leader. Her uncle said that on Friday she was simply excited to go to school and return home and make a gingerbread house. ”Her only crime,” he said, “is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old.”
Josephine Gay, 7, just celebrated her birthday last Tuesday, according to the Hartford Courant. In a Wall Street Journal article, she is said to have loved riding her bike and setting up a lemonade stand in her neighborhood. Her favorite color was purple.
Dylan Hockley, 6, loved video games, jumping on a trampoline, watching movies and eating garlic bread. He had dimples, blue eyes and “the most mischievous little grin,” according to his grandmother. His family moved to Connecticut from England and chose Newtown because its schools has exemplary academic ratings.
Madeleine Hsu, 6. No photo available. A neighbor told the Wall Street Journal that the little girl was known as Maddy and always wore flowery dresses.
Catherine Hubbard, 6, was the daughter of Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard. The family released a statement thanking everyone for their love and prayers.
Chase Kowalski, 7, completed his first triathlon last year. He also loved baseball, Cub Scouts, and the kids’ workshops at Home Depot. His parents said ”We are thankful to the Lord for giving us seven years with our beautiful loving son. It is with heavy hearts that we return him.”
Jesse Lewis, 6, had hot chocolate with his favorite breakfast sandwich — sausage, egg and cheese — at the neighborhood deli before going to school Friday morning, according to the Wall Street Journal. He loved animals and was learning to ride a horse.
Ana Marquez-Green, 6, is described as “beautiful and vibrant.” Her grandmother told the Associated Press that the family moved to Connecticut just two months ago and were drawn to Sandy Hook’s reputation.
James Mattioli, 6, is described by a neighbor as having “a 1,000-watt smile.”
Grace McDonnell, 7, was the ultimate girly-girl who loved playing dress-up, wearing jewelry, and all things pink.
Emilie Parker, 6, was the oldest of 3 girls. Her family also recently moved to Newtown where her dad works as a physician’s assistant. He says his oldest daughter was”kind and sunny-natured, the type of person who could just light up a room.” She was, he said, “an incredible person, and I am so blessed to be her dad.”
Jack Pinto, 6, loved football, loved the NY Giants, and loved Victor Cruz most of all. Cruz spoke to Jack’s family who said they were considering burying their son in a #80 jersey to reflect his love of Cruz. The wide receiver wrote a message to Jack on his cleats.
Noah Pozner, 6, ”had a huge heart and he was so much fun, a little bit rambunctious, lots of spirit,” according to his aunt. ”He was a gorgeous, gorgeous boy and he could really get what he wanted just by batting those long eyelashes and looking at you with those big blue eyes. You really couldn’t say no to him,” she said. Noah leaves behind a twin sister.
Caroline Previdi, 6, was reportedly always smiling and earned the nickname “Silly Caroline.” A neighbor remembers how “Silly Caroline” intervened when her son was nervous about starting kindergarten and sat with him on the bus to help calm his nerves.
Jessica Rekos, 6, loved anything relating to horses. She’d asked Santa for a new cowgirl hat and boots this year, and her parents had promised to get her a horse when she turned 10. Her mom’s words: ”Jessica was our first born. She started our family, and she was our rock,” her family said in a statement. “She had an answer for everything, she didn’t miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time. We called her our little CEO for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything. We cannot imagine our life without her.”
Avielle Richman, 6, also loved horses, and her riding instructor said she would giggle every time her horse trotted.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6, is described as an “irrepressibly bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained.” Ben was a fan of the Beatles. He loved lighthouses and the No. 7 train to Sunnyside, Queens.
Allison Wyatt, 6. No photo, no information available.
Lasting words from Nelson Mandela: