Once again, we must speak of the unspeakable.
The details are still being pulled together, but this much is known: A gunman opened fire inside a Newtown, Conn., elementary school Friday, killing 26 people, including 20 children, and then himself. Other students at Sandy Hook Elementary School hid in classrooms until able to flee with the help of teachers and police.
This tragedy is of such a magnitude that words fail. We do know, though, that there are heroes.
Parent Robert Licata said his 6-year-old son was in class when the gunman burst in and shot the teacher. It’s almost too much to imagine.
And yet, Licata said, “That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door. He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”
No 6-year-old should have to be so brave.
Melissa Makris told the Associated Press that her 10-year-old son was in the gym: “He said he heard a lot of loud noises and then screaming.” The gym teachers gathered the children in a corner and kept them safe. The fourth-grader told his mother that they stayed huddled until police arrived: “He said the policemen came in and helped them get out of the building and told them to run. And they ran to the firehouse.”
No 10-year-old should have to make that run.
Seventeen-year-old Mergim Bajraliu heard the gunshots echo from his home and raced to check on his 9-year-old sister. He said his sister, who was fine, heard a scream over the school intercom.
No 9-year-old should hear that. No big brother should have to race to such a rescue.
Richard Wilford’s 7-year-old son, Richie, a second-grader, heard a noise like “cans falling.” His teacher went to check, came back, locked the door and had the kids huddle in the corner until police arrived. “There’s no words,” the father said. “It’s sheer terror, a sense of imminent danger, to get to your child and be there to protect him.”
No parent should feel that terror.
Many families today are without their children, without their loved ones.
The loss, the grief, the incomprehension have been felt in other communities. Only days earlier, another young man opened fire at an Oregon shopping mall, killing two people and himself.
The fact such an atrocity can happen anywhere doesn’t ease the shock. Omahans know what the residents of Newtown, Conn., are feeling.
It was five years ago, in December 2007, when a 19-year-old shot and killed eight people, then himself, at the Westroads Von Maur store. And it was almost two years ago when a 17-year-old walked into Millard South High School with a gun and killed Assistant Principal Vicki Kaspar and wounded Principal Curtis Case. Police later found the shooter dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a parking lot.
Omahans today feel deeply for the latest victims, their families and the people of Newtown, Conn. We can offer a few words that may help:
There is strength in community. People from all walks of life will come together to comfort one another and share the grief and bewilderment. There will be support from family, friends, neighbors, clergy — and complete strangers.
Some of those strangers will be from far away. After the Von Maur tragedy, letters of support and solace came from across the country, even from other countries. The World-Herald published many of them. A letter of comfort, sent to the Newtown Bee newspaper, might be one way Omahans could share our experiences and offer our sympathy.
There likely will be fundraising to help victims and survivors. In Omaha, we saw a tremendous outpouring of generosity — more than $1.3 million was raised after the Von Maur tragedy. John Ewing, who chaired that effort, said Friday that donations came from many cities and states, “From people who had ties to Omaha and people who had been associated with other tragedies.” A donation, too, might be a way to help.
In the wake of such an atrocity, there is no way to avoid the heartache. But it may ease the pain a little to know that others care.
This is a time for caring.