Since I was born in October of 1987, over 250 school shootings have been reported. From elementary schools to state colleges, school shootings have been something that has occurred every year in just about every month in each year for the thirty years I have been alive. Some are more deadly enough to make the news and garner national attention and some are small where no one is killed. April of 1999 is when the mass shootings in school took on entirely different light.
The date was April 20, 1999 and it was Littleton, Colorado and the school was Columbine. Two students opened fire on their classmates, killing fifteen and injuring twenty one. It was one of the deadliest mass shootings in history in a school and it dominated television. I was twelve years old, but I remember hearing about the shooting. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I fully understood the impact Columbine had. It was sad, but I did not understand it too much; however, December 14, 2012, I do remember more vividly. Even though it’s five years later today, it still hurts. This was Sandy Hook.
Sandy Hook hurts even today because for me it hit close to home. I was young in my career at when tragedy struck. I remember receiving the alert on my phone about breaking news. I clicked the link and was floored by what I read, which was a gunman had opened fire on a school. It was an elementary school that was home to babies as young as five years old. All I could do was pray. When I arrived home that evening and watched the news, it was then I learned twenty six people from the school had been killed. He killed four adults and killed twenty first graders between the ages of six and seven. Just like that, their lives were snatched from them. When I think this five year later, the pain remains. How could something like this happen to the most innocent of victims?
These kids should be in 6th grade today enjoying life as middle schoolers instead of being buried. The parents who never expected to bury their children should be buying Christmas presents for them and taking them to get pictures with Santa Clause instead of visiting a gravesite. This year it hurts me because five years later, I am a principal of an elementary school. I have first graders. I have sixty of them and I look forward to five years later seeing them in middle school. I look forward to ten years later seeing them in high school. I look forward to them going to prom one day, getting married and having their own kids. I look at them and see the future, a bright future full of promise. This was the same bright future and promise that was snatched away that December morning five years ago from twenty children.
It still hurts for the survivors. It hurts for the teachers in the building who would have been privileged enough to teacher those students during these five years. Now, there are twenty less students to walk the halls and hear laughing and see playing at recess. The teachers who lost colleagues are still in pain. Then, I think about the pain of the students who lost classmates, most of them too young to understand, but to they have to live with sounds of gunfire and screams in school. The image of dead classmates on the floor is something that will haunt them forever. Their innocence was taken away that morning and it is unfair. I think about the parents of those victims. I am not a parent, so I can’t imagine their grief. I can’t imagine the pain they felt receiving that call about a shooting at the school. The school is supposed to be a safe place. That safe place was violated that December morning.
On this day five years later, I say to the Sandy Hook community that you are in my heart. You are in my thoughts and prayers. This day comes every year and hopefully each year the pain lessens a little. Those twenty six people will never be forgotten. Their memories will live on forever. I hope you find time on this day to remember the smiles they left on everyone faces.
On this day Five years later let us not forget the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary: Richard D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Leigh Soto, Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.