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Commentary: Newtown, Conn. is just a small town like yours

Liz Young / Senior Lantern reporter

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. – As news of the Newtown, Conn., shooting reached Ridgefield, Conn., the town where I live, Twitter blew up.

On the morning of Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother in the head multiple times, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he killed 20 children and 6 adults before shooting himself, according to multiple reports. The children were all ages 6 and 7 and all victims were shot multiple times.

“This could have happened in Ridgefield,” my friends and former classmates were all tweeting.

They were all right, in the sense that there is no distinguishable reason why the shooting could not have happened in Ridgefield. Newtown is only 20 minutes away from Ridgefield and is a town almost exactly like ours: small, wealthy and community-oriented.

Ridgefield’s public schools, including the high school I graduated from, which my younger sister still attends, and the middle school my brother goes to, were all locked down that morning, awaiting confirmation from police officers that there were no gunmen on the loose, that the children were not in danger. Our town was close enough to be that strongly affected by what little news was coming out at the time.

Our two towns are regularly involved with one another. My brother had a baseball game at a field down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School in mid-October. One of my favorite high school teachers lives in Newtown and sends her son, an adorable, intelligent fourth-grader, to Sandy Hook. Some of my friends had worked with Sandy Hook children at summer camps in the past.

It was Sunday evening when I finally decided it was time to go see the memorial. As I took pictures, I asked for names and permission to print the photos. As would seem natural, the people there were from nearby towns. They were people who cared enough to make the drive on a Sunday night and pay respect to those who died and it was the greatest sense of community I have ever felt.

The memorial was enormous, much larger than I had expected based off of the pictures I had seen. It went all along two sides of a Newtown main road. There were probably about 1,000 candles and there were hundreds of handwritten notes, signs and stuffed animals.

I was letting myself hide behind the lens of my camera when I visited. I didn’t want to be crying as I asked people for their names. But when I snapped a picture of a little boy and his uncle talking about what sports teams they liked, I had to face what I was seeing.

The boy’s uncle told me that the five-year-old boy was a kindergartner at Sandy Hook. He was in the afternoon class, however, and had not been there at the time of the shooting.

This could have happened to anyone, at any time, anywhere, if it could happen to these people and children in the type of town where you never feel unsafe. When reporters said on national news stations that Newtown is quiet and peaceful, they seemed to be having trouble putting into words the sense of security that exists here.

The best way to put it is that it just seems that nothing bad could ever happen in a small town like Newtown. But if it can happen there, it can very much happen anywhere.

In Ridgefield, there have been emails and Facebook posts circulating about ways to help: volunteering to do household chores for the families of those who died, making snowflakes to decorate the school in Monroe, Conn., that the Sandy Hook students will be going to after winter break, holding prayer services and sending notes to Newtown’s churches. People want to help. People want to help recreate some semblance of a holiday spirit for Newtown and for themselves. People want to feel safe and secure again.

There is also a lot of national political talk going on about various ways to fix the problems, and those different views were represented through many handwritten signs at the memorial. More gun control, more mental health support, pro-gun rights, etc. I think I speak for most when I say I hope that whatever solutions become legislation actually work.

But for now, all that we have to rely on in Connecticut, in Ohio with all of its small towns, and in the United States as a whole is a sense of community. All we have is small-town love and small-town thoughts and small-town pride. Now more than ever, all we have and all we can care about is each other this holiday season.

 

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