Today marks four years since my hometown of Sandy Hook was changed forever. Four years ago today at around 9:35 in the morning, our quiet and unknown town hit the news in a way we thought it never would. I still live in constant shock and have to snap myself out of it. I wish there was a button to go back in time and prevent it all.
I can’t recall a time in my life where I was more scared than I was on that day of my sophomore year. My best friend and I were studying in a hallway; we were immediately directed to go to the nearest classroom by one of our security guards. His tone was not angry, but a firm tone to get us to safety as soon as possible. We were brought in a choir room with no clue of what was going on. We didn’t know what exactly was happening for the entirety of our lockdown. Over the course of a couple hours, helicopters could be heard above our school. It was a sound I had never heard at school before. We were advised to not check our phones until further notice. It was difficult to find out what was going on; why our community was suddenly in danger. Some students did take to social media to investigate during the lockdown; there were so many rumors going around that no one knew what to believe.
I just remember at the end of lockdown, our high school principal spoke to us over the loudspeaker calmly informing us that a serious shooting occurred at Sandy Hook School. My little town of Sandy Hook became a place that would be on national news, be Googled, and documented in future textbooks.
Oddly we all went on to finish the day out in our next classes. My next class was Child Development. We all were in the room, standing in disbelief. We looked like a herd of deer caught in the headlights: eyes wide open and jaws dropped. We looked like the life was sucked out of us. The news was projected on the screen, and it said “6 victims.” Then “13 victims.” And only kept going up. My heart stopped because I was so worried about the kids I knew who attended there and the adults who worked there. Tears slowly ran down each of our faces.
Onto the next class… more news, more tragedy. Sitting in class, the news hit the world, and I remember having my elbows on my desk with my hands holding my head up to watch the news with my fingers close by my eyes to wipe the tears. Behind me and around me, I slowly began to hear my classmates tell each other, “Open Twitter!” I didn’t have Twitter, but person after person read a new tweet sent out from celebrities and known-figures sending their love, thoughts, and prayers to our town.
Later, the bell rang, and it was the end of the school day. We all left the classrooms with mostly silence in the hall. All of us were whispering to each other talking timidly with teardrops uncontrollably sliding out of each eye wondering whose lives were taken at that school too soon.
As I was waiting for my father to pick me up from school, I waited in my school’s lobby with many others. In that instance, I realized that love truly wins.
I saw my school connect in a way I had never seen before. Students, teachers and staff, some that I have never before spoken to, were now coming up to me to just simply hug.
Those hugs were some of the tightest, warmest, and most genuine hugs I’d ever received in my entire life. We all cried in each other’s arms. We all were there for each other in that instant.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
Going home, I remember telling my family, “I’m okay… I think. I just cannot come to terms this happened.” I don’t recall speaking aloud much, but I do very much remember living on my computer and phone reading and watching the news constantly, and seeing the outpour of love and support from others. Within weeks, Mia Hamm, the Knicks, the UCONN basketball teams, the Patriots, and many more came all the way to Newtown to show their support in person. They contributed to giving us a sense of normalcy.
I remember more than a week after December 14th, I went with my family to walk through Sandy Hook Center for the first time. Our whole family was all together at once, healing together, and comforting each other. It was so surreal that with each step we took, another candle, another stuffed animal, another sign, and so much LOVE was flooding the sidewalks of our center. It was like this for a while. Every card, every sign, and every “Newtowner” was still grieving and we were healing together.
The streets were flooded with media. I understand news needs to be covered, but I wished I could’ve gone to school and be dropped off by my parents without cameras feet away from the car. I could only hope in time that when people visited our town, they came to see it. It was not the time for tourists. We are real people; we are a real community who were hit with an insurmountable tragedy in a short time, and we had to (and have to) wake up every day and be strong for the loved ones we lost in our community and for those who survived.
We worked to stand with strength and resilience and are proud to live in such a beautiful place we all call home.
Two days after the tragedy, President Barack Obama came to Newtown High School, my very own school, to speak in our auditorium on live TV on Sunday December 16th, 2012. It was amazing that the President of our country stopped what he was doing to get to our town as soon as possible. It was so comforting to know our President was supporting us. No matter your political viewpoint, you could clearly see this man cared.
On the transition coming back to school, we all came back to see that seat and were still astounded that our country’s President sat in that very seat. It felt surreal and still does. He also left us with a note on one of the whiteboards of our school saying, “You’re in our thoughts and prayers.” and signed his name.
This transition was difficult but comforting. I remember coming back and not having significant pressure from the staff and teachers. They were there for us and whatever we needed, they provided. We first came into the school’s gymnasium altogether: every single student and every single staff member. Our principal spoke to us for a long time. Imagine being in his position; imagine having over 1500 students plus staff in one building having to deal with such a tragedy. We may have been high schoolers and adults, but we were all still kids at heart. He teared up speaking to us, and yet remained strong. You could hear the love in his voice. He made it his mission to build a resilient community of students at Newtown High School; he succeeded.
Principal Dumais said aloud and in writing on his school blog,
“I am sure that one of the thoughts that crossed your mind this week was ‘Will people always associate me with this horrific event when they find out I am from (or work in) Newtown?’ We can choose a future now that will bring us recognition as a community that took a terrible tragedy and turned it into a movement for a better world.”
Our school went over and beyond to help us in our healing process. Counseling was offered; comfort dogs came to visit, watching movies, playing with Play-Doh in class, and much more. They wanted to provide us with as much support as possible.
I sent my mom an update of how we were doing in school. It was one of the first moments I started to feel like myself again (to an extent). She posted saying on Facebook,
“My daughter had a good day!!! She walked into her school to have the lobby filled with Teachers and Staff, waiting and very ready to give hugs, which they did abundantly. There was a school assembly where their Principal assured them they would be safe and that they were very cared about. She received and gave hugs all day to her fellow classmates and friends. Comfort dogs were available, and Brooke loved them. One teacher had them watch Finding Nemo and play with Play-Doh, how amazing is that. She felt SAFE, She felt LOVED, She had FUN!! I am so grateful as a mother for the incredible staff and teachers at NHS and the entire district who are helping our kids take the first steps in healing.”
The outpouring of love and support from my school, my family, my friends, and the world was simply incredible.
As much as we were all hurting with a million of questions circling our heads staring with the word, “Why…?” we all continued to find hope and healing through the love in our hearts.
Little things brought us hope: hope to keep going.
Officer Todd founded the Sandy Hook Ducks which was one of the many programs that helped spread smiles to Sandy Hook Elementary School students, to Newtown, and around the world.
Not only that, but we embraced the support of two big organizations: Ben’s Bells and Hearts of Hope. Both follow the process in which people volunteer their time at events to mold clay into bells or hearts. They glaze and paint them, and later, the final products get hung in communities to spread hope and kindness. These two organizations brought that to us and allowed us to heal through art. In my healing process, I was able to become a volunteer with my family and together, we volunteered at events. Fortunately, I was able to take my passion for working with kids and connect with them through this form of art. We brought smiles to each other’s faces. I had to step away at each one to go to the bathroom because tears were starting to come out again.
Being a volunteer was life changing. I was able to make hearts and bells; I got to be a part of the process to pay it forward, spread hope, and to spread and receive love.
The love and strength of our community was so clearly evident. Love won, and I couldn’t say it enough. The definition of “win” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary states, “to achieve victory.” And that, we did!
As Tim Stan beautifully put,
“We are Sandy Hook, We Choose Love.”
He was able to create a sign that was green with white lettering sending a positive message to the community he has lived in for a long time.
Green and white are Sandy Hook Elementary School’s school colors. He was able to bring a message of hope significant to our community.
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” — Henry Ford
And we all prove it to ourselves and each other every day. We do so much in our town to promote kindness with genuine hearts, to remember the 20 children and 6 heroic teachers and staff members we lost way too soon. We all work to better ourselves and the world we live in.
To our 26 beloved angels: Four years has passed, but a day never goes by where we don’t think about you all. I play every field hockey game in memory of you all and do everything I can to represent our town in the best way I can.
To Newtown: I am beyond proud to live in such a beautiful area with some of the most influential people I have ever met. We have shown the world and continue to show the world the definition of being strong and reminding one another that love wins.
To the world: I promise you… love truly does win. We need to stick together in our communities. One person cannot change this world on their own. We need many people, we need many voices to be heard. Treasure the moments you have in life and love one another. You never know what you have until it’s gone.
“Be kind to each other. It’s really all that matters” — Dawn Hochsprung