Many of you already know this, but my kids are students of Sandy Hook School. On Friday, when the joyful learning environment was shattered by violence, my son was in his classroom. He heard screams and gunshots. His teacher, to whom I am forever indebted, hurried the students into their safe corner where they ducked down so the shooter wouldn’t see them. Will stayed there, huddled with his classmates, with his back pressed against a cabinet. His teacher comforted the children, keeping them quiet during the horrific chaos. Down the hall, my cousin’s son sat huddled with other students in his kindergarten room while their teacher quietly read stories to keep them calm.
I can’t begin to imagine what those moments were like for Will, our cousin, their friends, teachers, the whole school.
Just across the hall, mere feet from Will’s classroom, first grade teacher Victoria Soto rushed to hide and protect her students.
Miss Soto wasn’t just a hero on December 14. She was someone who had truly touched Will’s life. On his first day of school, this past September, he was the new kid nervous about meeting new friends and finding his place in the new school. Although Miss Soto wasn’t his teacher, he met her and learned that she was friends with his teacher from last year — something that connected and bonded them. With her warm welcoming, Will immediately felt at home in the new place. We were blessed to have her in his life.
Will asked me on Friday if Miss Soto was okay. He’d seen papers strewn on her floor as he was evacuated and worried. On Saturday morning, I had to tell him that Miss Soto had not survived. “But we didn’t get to finish the lava game,” he said. “We were supposed to finish the lava game with her on Friday. Now we never will.”
I can’t hug Will tight enough or tell him enough times that I love him. I can’t take this pain from him or erase the horrific things he heard and experienced that day. I can only be there and reassure him as best I can.
As news trickled on Friday and Saturday, I had no choice but to tell my kids as we learned about the passing of so many from our community. This was our school, our people. Dawn Hochsprung, our principal, wasn’t just an enthusiastic educator. She was someone who was in the classrooms, getting excited with the kids. She was a vibrant, full-of-life woman whose eyes lit up when she talked about exciting new things happening at the school.
And I think of Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist who I’ve spoken with a few times over the last few months coordinating speech help for Paige. On a recent call, I was so upset for having missed a meeting that she assured me wasn’t important. She was so sweet as she recounted everything I missed, silencing my tears and calming me in the process.
On Friday, as I walked away from the horror with Will and Paige, a friend texted me asking if I could find someone. Our daughters’ former teacher, a dear friend of my family, was worried about her sister, Anne Marie Murphy. We turned around immediately and went back. As much as I wanted to run far away, I couldn’t leave knowing that our friend was so worried. I asked Will’s teachers, then two more teachers, a police officer. No one had seen her. One said she thought (or perhaps hoped? prayed?) that Anne Marie had stayed home that day. Through the day, we prayed. We hoped against hope that our friend’s family would be spared this loss. But in the middle of the night, they received confirmation that she didn’t make it.
And then there are the children. The beautiful children. My heart aches knowing that 20 little children didn’t get reunited with their parents last Friday. I can’t begin to explain the complex pain that comes with having so much life lost in a place that’s a second home to your kids.
My heart aches. The innocence and belief in safety was shattered on Friday morning. Our school had excellent safety measures in place, but none of that could stop this. Still, amid all this, I am struck by the heroic actions of our teachers. Their actions, words and quick thinking saved so many. Over the last few days, I have been overwhelmed with the love, support and prayers of my family, friends, colleagues, and so many others — people I don’t know from all over the world. Every note, every kind word, every email has touched my heart and helped my family feel a little less alone in the aftermath of this awful event. It’s been a great buoy in a sea of helpless, hopeless, horrific days.
As I stood in our town on Saturday, surrounded by news vans and curious onlookers and shocked families, a woman stepped over and gently said “excuse me.” I smiled, that weak smile I’ve had to dig deep to find this past few days.
“I have sandwiches and water for the first responders, but it looks like the road to the firehouse is closed. Do you know if I can get up there?” she asked. I could have cried or hugged her, because the simple gesture of bringing food for the men and women who helped our children on Friday is so generous. So kind. Instead, I told her to walk and that police who were guarding the road blocks would help get it there.
On Sunday, as our school community gathered for an interfaith service, families hugged each other and shed tears together as we remembered the Sandy Hook 26 — 20 children, 6 adults, all taken too soon. President Barack Obama joined with our local clergy to deliver a respectful, impassioned service that really honors all those who we lost.
Today, our small New England town will begin the raw process of burying the victims of December 14. In the days that come, we will ready a new school and try to regain some thread of normalcy in our lives. But no matter how many days pass, we will also remember the tragedy of last Friday and be bound by our collective panic, grief and devastation. We are shattered. But we will find a way to go on.
Many bloggers have declared today a Day of Silence in honor of our school. It is a small gesture that means so much. As much as I wanted to partake, it just didn’t feel right. Instead, I wanted everyone to know about the extraordinary people that Sandy Hook lost last Friday. Thank you for reading.
Sarah’s Cucina Bella is going to have a little silence of its own now. I’ll be taking some time off to be with my kids over the next few days. Sometime later this week, I have two food-related posts that will run. Thanks for your support and understanding.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of several cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to two kids in middle school, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.