On Friday, a tragedy struck beyond the abilities of us to comprehend. It would have been an unspeakable tragedy no matter where it occurred, but as it so happened, the tragedy occurred here, in our state, in our community.
I’ve spent time in Newtown- it’s a beautiful place, with every New England stereotype you can imagine, and incredibly kind people. Sandy Hook Elementary School was like any other school across our state, across our country. It was a safe haven, where young minds were being shaped for a bright future by adults who are among the best of us, people who wanted nothing more than to make a positive difference in the world. It was a place for the laughter of children, the feeling of hope, a place where nothing could possibly go wrong..
Then came Friday, ten terrifying minutes of senseless violence that changed everything forever.
Ed Mahony and Dave Altimari of the Hartford Courant authored a definitive description of those ten terrifying minutes. It is a brilliant piece of reporting, and one that’s nearly impossible to read.
Lauren Rousseau had her life all falling into place. She had recently landed a permanent job as a full-time substitute teacher at Sandy Hook. A Danbury native, she was working on her master’s at the University of Bridgeport. Rousseau had spent the previous six weeks filling in for another teacher who was on maternity leave. The gunman entered Rousseau’s classroom and murdered all 15 people in the classroom.
Rousseau completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Connecticut.
Brian Engel is an alumnus of the University of Connecticut. Brian was a member of the UConn Marching Band while a student. Brian and his wife Shannon had a beautiful daughter, Olivia, who was one of the children who died. Dr. David Mills, head of the UCMB, passed along the terrible news via Facebook, as well as a link to the Friends of the Engel Family Fund page, which has been established to help pay for Olivia’s final expenses. Paying for your child’s funeral is the worst expense I can imagine, and it is one expense that the Engel Family should not have to bear.
As the stories came out, with the UConn connections, I had other thoughts. Did we share classes? Did our paths ever cross? Was anyone I knew affected? Why did they have to suffer such an unspeakable tragedy? I’ve tried to stop asking these questions, because there are no good answers, and it will just drive me mad.
The reality is that twenty children, aged six and seven, are gone. They would have grown up to be teachers, doctors, leaders, with children of their own. Now they’re gone, and we don’t know why.
But in these dark times, when it seems that maybe the Mayans were right, that there’s nothing left to believe in, there are still heroes. There are the six incredible adults who died protecting the children of others, whom they loved as if they were their very own. Without their bravery and quick-thinking, the death toll could have been far worse.
Dawn Hochsprung had done everything she could to protect her students as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary. When she heard the commotion of the murderer storming the halls, she tried to subdue him and stop the violence. Hochsprung had a bachelor’s from Central Connecticut State University and a master’s from Southern Connecticut State University.
Victoria Soto died exhibiting bravery that is almost inconceivable. She hid her students in a closet and faced the murderer herself. The murderer demanded to know where her students were. She attempted to divert him to the other end of the school, saying they were in the auditorium. Soto died protecting her students, seven of whom were later found by police holed up in that closet, saved only by her actions. Soto had a bachelor’s from Eastern Connecticut State University and was pursuing her master’s at Southern.
Central Connecticut State University. Eastern Connecticut State University. Southern Connecticut State University. The University of Bridgeport. The University of Connecticut. These, and countless other schools and communities around our state/region have been touched by this tragedy. These are our friends, our families, our neighbors, our sons, our daughters. Gone.
There are memorial services and vigils being held across Connecticut over the coming days. The Courant has an excellent map listing the details of these services. In Storrs, there is a candlelight vigil on Sunday night at 6 PM in front of the Mansfield Town Hall, located on South Eagleville Road, right next to campus.
For over a year, we’ve talked about conference realignment, and footprints, and market value, and TV rights, and none of it matters in the grand scope of life. It didn’t matter before Friday, it didn’t matter on Friday, and it hasn’t mattered since. Seven institutions, supposedly of a religious background, decided that a press release concerning their own athletic futures could not wait through the weekend. The timing of their decision is unfathomable to me, the logic behind it known only to those institutions, their leaders and their faith.
There are debates to be had about those things, about the schedules of when schools will bounce and throw balls at what time and against whom in what year and for what. Those frivolous debates will be overshadowed in the coming days and months with news of funerals for children and educators, a debate over gun control, over mental health, and other serious matters.
The University of Connecticut has a very important role to play. As those important debates go on, the school remains the public face of Connecticut. Properly remembering Sandy Hook is the primary concern (I’m all-aboard with the idea of having the basketball teams wear the Newtown High School uniforms at least once, plus a patch all year). Maybe these trivial games can serve as a distraction from all the sadness and chaos that envelops us. For a couple of hours, they can provide us a chance to get worked up over things that are ultimately meaningless. Maybe that’s myopic.
For now, there is only a profound sadness, filled with the wish that there was a way to go back to the way things were before Friday. The knowledge that we cannot do so only makes the grief stronger.
The Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Olivia Rose Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Madeleine F Hsu, 6
Catherine V Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N Wyatt, 6
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3