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Answering For Our Town

The holiday season had already settled over Newtown like a snow globe, and the spirited center of Sandy Hook glittered with lights and bubbled with good cheer. Then on Friday morning a young man filled with anger and trouble, armed beyond reason, took deadly aim at Sandy Hook’s true heart — its elementary school. The violence wrought in the next several minutes left 26 dead, mostly 6- and 7-year-olds and several of the adults who tried to protect them. The scale and the horror of the crime still outpaces our capacity to understand it. We expect it always will.

The shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook and shattered the spell of Newtown’s picturesque holiday traditions, and the anguish and grief that spilled out of us was delivered to the world by legions of journalists arriving in caravans of satellite trucks as if drawn by some dark star of calamity. What they found when they got to town, however, was not a town in pieces, but a community already coming together, with friends, neighbors, and mere acquaintances gathering around those most grievously wounded, and supporting each other, as the people in this town have always done. Inevitably, because we are the town that we are, that became the story broadcast to the world.

So many people in town have been interviewed by journalists who have never been to Newtown before. Some have never been to New England before. Of the many inquiries The Bee received from journalists around the country and abroad, we were struck by the curiosity of two television news crews from Germany and Denmark who presented themselves in our lobby with questions which we are sure were asked repeatedly of people all over town. The questions went to the character of our town. Two questions were typical.

Did you ever in your wildest imagination think that such a tragedy could happen in Newtown?

The answer, unexpected as it may seem for this stock question, is yes. Newtown is not a sleepy town, as some seemed to think. And its people are not unthinking or without sophistication. It turns out we are imaginative, and whenever we have heard of other places wounded by hideous crimes, like Columbine or Virginia Tech, our wild imaginings did consider the possibility of it happening here. Our school personnel and emergency responders prepared and trained for such an improbable occurrence, and that forethought and training certainly saved lives. Knowing what we know now, we would characterize those imaginings as being more rational than wild.

These shootings have certainly changed the town, so how will Newtown get over this, and where will the town go from here?

Yes, the killings at Sandy Hook School have turned the town upside down. How and when we get our bearings straight depends on the uncertain requirements and timetable of emotional healing, which varies for each of us. But we are already on our way, buoyed not only by the poignant vigils and religious services of this past weekend, but by the outpouring of support for our town from around the world. When the President of the United States comes to grieve with us, the world watches and shares our sorrow and supports our recovery. In this special edition, we share a sampling of the hundreds of messages of heartfelt concern and support that have come in to The Bee from around the nation and the world. This collective focus of concern for our town and for the hardships of our people is not without meaning or consequence. It makes real the holiday wish from St Luke that so often is repeated by rote: And On Earth, Goodwill Toward Men.

As to where we go from here, we answer, as always, that in setting our sights on the future, we take direction from our past. From the 300 years of Newtown’s history, the community has inherited a legacy of independence of spirit, self-awareness, and community action. People take care of each other here; there is 135 years of evidence of that in the pages of The Bee. That story will not change in the future. But our community has suffered a grievous wound — a wound that will leave an obvious scar. From now on, when people learn that we are from Newtown, they will focus on that scar, and perhaps, impolitely, it will be the first thing they ask about our town. We will never hide it or apologize for it. It is the mark left behind by so many innocents who were violently torn from the embrace of our community on December 14, 2012. We will never forget them. And our message to the rest of the world, which is listening so closely to us now: remember the great promise of all the lives of the children and the educators who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and live accordingly.

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