Town reacts to Newtown shooting: ‘From darkness always comes light’

Dark clouds loomed in the sky over Greenwich High School (GHS) Tuesday night when hundreds of residents united for a vigil to honor the memory of the victims lost in Friday’s tragic school shooting in Newtown. But the dark clouds were no match for the somber atmosphere found in the GHS auditorium, where elected and appointed officials, religious leaders, police, Board of Education and Representative Town Meeting (RTM) members and many others from around the community shared their grief surrounding the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The vigil began with words from First Selectman Peter Tesei who described the Newtown shooting as “the most difficult thing that I’ve ever had to confront.” Explaining the “mixed emotions” he’s felt since Friday’s events, Mr. Tesei said one of the emotion that often dominated the others was anger that “twenty precious young children were struck down in such a way” and that six educators died trying to save them.

Despite his anger, Mr. Tesei said he was proud to lead a town whose residents have stepped up to help the Newtown community cope with a tragedy that will “forever change” them.

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie echoed the first selectman’s sentiments, expressing his appreciation for GHS students’ utmost respect during a service in the student center earlier that morning where all 3,000 GHS students and faculty joined to honor the Newtown victims.

Dr. McKersie said he was worried about students, and especially teachers who are facing the challenges presented by the Sandy Hook shooting. But on a more positive note, the superintendent told attendees that the community would make it through this hardship.

“From darkness always comes light. We always find a way forward. We always find a light to guide us,” he said. “Each of us, I am certain, will find a light and carry it.”

In an interview with the Post this week, Dr. McKersie also spoke about school security in town and what measures were being taken in the wake of the Newtown shooting. He said Greenwich schools were completely secure but that he was hard at work with the town and the police department to determine exactly what future precautions might be necessary, noting that police have had a heavy presence at schools throughout the week.

Although current safety features may need altering in the future, one of the town’s most important objectives at present is to ensure that the existing safety procedures for schools are being followed, including the use of limited and controlled access points and required check-ins at school buildings, Dr. McKersie explained.

One thing the superintendent said he is listening to closely regarding school security is the voice of the many parents and community members who have expressed concerns and offered suggestions. Dr. McKersie said he is paying close attention to their input and hopes to use it as the town takes its next steps in recovering from a tragedy that shook the entire community.

On the other hand, although he is a parent and “can feel very much the parents’ concern and anguish,” the town “must be careful not to overreact” to the Newtown shooting. The town’s response, he said, should be balanced.

Others around Greenwich are looking for serious action in light of the Sandy Hook massacre, specifically gun control.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4), a Cos Cob resident, was in attendance in Newtown on Sunday when the president spoke. In a tweet before the event, Mr. Himes said he urged the president to take action on guns. In the wake of the 2011 Tucson, Az. shootings that claimed several lives and resulted in Mr. Himes colleague U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords being shot in the head and surviving, Mr. Himes signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to ban the 30-round ammunition clips that were used in that shooting. However, the bill, which was put together by U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was murdered in a mass shooting, ultimately went nowhere.

After meeting with more than 250 constituents on this issue on Monday, Mr. Himes told the Post that he joined them in their anger and horror over the Newtown shootings. He didn’t expect action in the last few weeks of the “lame duck” session of Congress that is now in session but said things should start to happen when new members are sworn in this coming January. He cautioned, though, that this would be a process that could take time due to the lobbying group the National Rifle Association (NRA).

“Newtown is particularly horrible but we see shootings every single day in this country,” Mr. Himes said, citing figures that show 30,000 deaths attributed to gun violence every year with only a small percentage of them involving weapons like the ones used in Newtown. “Throughout it all the gun lobby has been obfuscating and unyielding. It didn’t used to be this way. The NRA used to support smart and careful regulation. Now it regards any kind of measure to regulate guns as a catastrophic failure.”

In the Senate, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif,) has vowed to reintroduce an assault weapon ban in the new session. Sen. elect Chris Murphy and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident, have both vowed to support it. Mr. Blumenthal gave a floor speech on Tuesday in the Senate where he made clear that he wanted to see action and that he would work with President Obama and Republicans to make it happen.

“We need to do something to effectively ban assault weapons. I am talking about weapons that are not designed for self-defense or hunting, but rather for killing as many people as possible, as fast as possible. There is no reason that such weapons should be for sale in America today,” Mr. Blumenthal said in his speech.

He added that this was a crisis and that he would not be deterred “by any organization or campaign” using scare tactics to keep from reaching a solution.

“I know there are some who say that we can never do anything about the problem of gun violence, that we are so entrenched as a nation and so polarized as a political body, that we will just continue to wring our hands after every massacre but never take action,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “And yet, sometimes events happen that so horrify our country and our fellow citizens, that they change the nature of the discussion. They change the political ground under us. They are a tectonic shift. I believe that the massacre of these innocent children and their loving teachers in Newtown is such an event.”

In his visit to Newtown on Sunday to meet with the families of the Newtown shooting victims, President Obama also called for immediate action.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” the president said. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change … We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws — can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. Yet, “if there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

“In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

On a more positive note, President Obama told Newton not to “lose heart” and that although “outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day … I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts,” he said. “I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide.”

The president also thanked the Newtown community for inspiring the rest of the country with the care and support they showed one another during a time of unthinkable tragedy.

“There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other,” the President Obama said. “And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do.”

 

Post editor Ken Borsuk contributed to this article.

 

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