Oliver: Heart breaks for Sandy Hook Elementary


Wiggly, squirmy and cherubic. Little bundles of buzzing energy, full of curiosity and rambunctiousness.

When I visit grade schools for reading events, the first-grade classrooms usually are the most joyously chaotic.

The little ones always need a few reminders to huddle up for story time. They scoot themselves into place, so close they are nearly in my lap. The idea of “personal space” has yet to dawn on them.

Our area’s first-graders are so eager to engage. They will spontaneously burst out with details about their families, their pets and anything that might remotely have to do (or not) with the story at hand.

They just want to find a way to connect, to share of themselves.

That beguiling innocence is such a beautiful way to meet the world.

And it’s the reason that the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., have ripped apart my heart.

By all accounts, Sandy Hook Elementary, like our own area schools, was a place where kids could learn and have fun. The school’s motto was, according to a Washington Post story, “Think you can. Work hard. Get smart. Be kind.”

But evil found a way to shatter it all.

Twelve girls and eight boys, all 6 or 7 years old, lost their lives Friday in a horrific attack on the school.

How the 20-year-old gunman could look into those faces and repeatedly pull the trigger is beyond comprehension.

Also killed were two teachers, two teacher’s aides, the school’s beloved principal and the school psychologist. Earlier that day, the gunman had killed his own mother in the home they shared. And in the end, he killed himself.

According to media reports, heroic teachers did everything they could to distract and shield and protect their students during the attack.

They hid the children in closets and in bathrooms, and barricaded classroom doors with whatever was at hand. A music teacher is said to have used the school’s xylophones to bar the door.

The terror of those children and adults in those excruciating minutes is unimaginable. Those who survived no doubt will be dealing with the trauma for years to come.

In the days ahead, no doubt even more details will emerge about what happened. What we might never know, however, is why.

No doubt there also will be discussions about gun control, mental illness and school security. I fear that the usual angry rhetoric will do nothing to honor the memory of those who were lost.

So I’ll leave those debates to others.

With a very heavy heart, I join in mourning those little people who will never have chance to grow up. I mourn, too, the adults who devoted their lives to molding young minds for the future.

And I pray that in the face of such a terrible loss, the families will find at least some measure of comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their grief.

The eyes of the nation are watching and they, too, are full of tears.

• Joan Oliver is the assistant news editor for the Northwest Herald. She can be reached at 815-526-4552 or by email at

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