Today in Newtown, Connecticut 20 children and six adults were killed in a sickening display of violence that assaults one of the only universally held taboos in our society–violence against children.
You don’t have to be a parent for your stomach to roll at the news coverage. School shootings and other public massacres are far too common in our day and age, but the perpetrators and victims are often peers. Students turning on fellow students, troubled young adults targeting other grown ups. When the banner with the breaking news first appeared across the bottom of the TV on my desk this morning, I assumed it was a disgruntled ex-teacher, maybe a domestic dispute, a divorce going poorly compounded with the stress of the holidays.
When I came back from lunch with my coworkers, the breaking news banner had changed: “CT POLICE: 20 CHILDREN, 6 ADULTS KILLED AT SCHOOL.” 20 children? The school is only a K-4, students are only 5-10 years old.
And then the news reports confirmed that the shooter’s mother, killed today, was a kindergarten teacher and the majority of the victims were her students. Kindergarteners?
The police haven’t confirmed the age of the shooter, but reports put him at 20 or 24 years old. What’s certain is that he wasn’t a peer of the children he murdered.
Kindergarteners are five and six years old. Children. Babies. Kindergarteners still wear footie pajamas, sit in car seats, have chubby knees, and need help tying their shoes.
With the updates in news coverage, the importance of having a statement for The Good Congressman became apt. As the press secretary, writing and distributing such a statement is my job. My job. The brand new mom with the most precious, amazing little girl at home. She’s not in school–she’s not even sitting up on her own yet–but the thought of what those Connecticut parents are dealing with right now absolutely leveled me.
The Good Congressman has children of his own and did not want to talk to any press today. When that happens, it’s the press secretary’s job to talk to them. Fortunately for me and for the media outlets calling today, his statement was short and sweet and so were my conversations with interested parties. But as a press secretary, the horrifying story that just kept developing wasn’t something I could shut out and ignore, it was something I had to follow as my job.
I watched the coverage today hoping it was wrong, hoping they miscounted, misunderstood, misspoke, anything. But the tragic fact is that 20 children will not be opening Christmas gifts next week. How many of them had already written to Santa this year? How many of them were in their church Christmas pageants last week, singing the loudest?
The families crushed by this violence never saw it coming. They won’t heal, they won’t recover, and Christmas will come each year as a reminder of what was taken from them so cruelly and needlessly.
And then I look at my own daughter. Even though she’s not in school; even though I believe she will probably never suffer this kind of fear and tragedy firsthand; even though the children who were killed leave kindergartner-sized holes in their families’ lives; even though having a child you love and treasure so much, so beyond words, means you are vulnerable to such a crushing loss, having a child you love and treasure so much means that despite the horror that is in this world, there is yet a reason to live.