The End of the Innocence

Today is a dark day.

This day left a gaping hole in the soul of humanity. I will always know it as the day we lost of any sense of innocence we may have had left.


This affected all of us. This heinous inexplicable act forced our nation to take pause and really question what the hell is going on in our country. We are living in an era where we are killing each other, a lot of the time the killers are killing people just to kill. Familiar questions surrounding a mass shooting always surface. There are usually questions about gun control, questions about access to proper mental health care for the citizens of this country, safety measures and precautions to be taken……

The topics had all been covered and debated before. Somehow this was very different. These victims were children, babies really. Their innocent  little souls…..their precious smiles……etched into our hearts instantly.

Being an educator and the mother of two small school aged children, one with behavioral and social struggles and sensory processing disorder , I have been profoundly affected by this.

Unable to sleep,  I have been reading and rereading the information about the shooting, the victims, the shooter, and their families since 2 am.

Initially, I instinctively read from the point of view of the children. Willing myself to imagine the fear they must have suffered. I took time to take in each and every one of their beautiful smiles.  I invite you to block off time and read it as well. The information, taken from several news reports, is disturbing. It is information that warrants a time and space to be properly processed.  I’m consumed by my anger, fear, and sadness. This is personal!

Some time before 9:30 a.m. EST on Friday December 14, 2012, Lanza shot and killed his mother Nancy Lanza, aged 52, at their Newtown home with a .22-caliber Savage MK II-F bolt action rifle.[12] Investigators later found her body clad in pajamas, in her bed, with four gunshot wounds to her head.  Lanza then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  

Can you imagine the state of his mind to be able to do this? He was in dire need of care. Did the people around him miss something?  Was he being properly monitored by his doctors? Did he receive treatment for his several diagnosed conditions? Did his mother need more support? Had she been desensitized to his condition? It happens right, it becomes your “normal”.

I think this is an important place in the discussion. I think it is here that people begin to get sidetracked. This is not about placing blame or making excuses. This is about identifying what we, as a society, can and should do when we have concern about someone’s mental health. Did you know that the shooter was six feet tall and weighed only 112 pounds at his death? He was diagnosed with a anorexia to the point of malnutrition resulting in brain damage. He was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, aspergers syndrome, sensory processing disorder and suspected but undiagnosed schizophrenia. So you have to wonder, HOW and WHY he was allowed access to so many guns. HOW did people look past his alarming physical appearance? Again, this should not be about placing blame, that helps no one. This is about ending the unproductive whispers and beginning a head on, full blown assault of the indifference. This is about working together, for real.

Shortly after 9:35 a.m., Adam Lanza shot his way through a glass panel next to the locked front entrance doors of the school. Some of those present heard the initial shots on the school intercom system, which was being used for morning announcements.

Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were meeting with other faculty members when they heard, but did not recognize, gunshots. Hochsprung, Sherlach, and lead teacher Natalie Hammond went into the hall to determine the source of the sounds and encountered Lanza. A faculty member who was at the meeting said that the three women called out “Shooter! Stay put!” which alerted their colleagues to the danger and saved their lives.  A teacher hiding in the math lab heard school janitor Rick Thorne yell “Put the gun down!” An aide heard gunshots. Thorne survived.  Lanza killed both Hochsprung and Sherlach. Hammond was hit first in the leg, and then sustained another gunshot wound. She lay still in the hallway and then, not hearing any more noise, crawled back to the conference room and pressed her body against the door to keep it closed. She was later treated at Danbury Hospital.

A nine-year-old boy stated that he heard the shooter say: “Put your hands up!” and someone else say “Don’t shoot!” He also heard many people yelling and many gunshots over the intercom, while he, his classmates, and his teacher took refuge in a closet in the gymnasium. Diane Day, a school therapist who had been at the faculty meeting with Hochsprung, heard screaming, followed by more gunshots. A second teacher, who was a substitute kindergarten teacher, was wounded in the attack. While she was closing a door further down the hallway, she was hit in the foot with a bullet that ricocheted. Lanza never entered her classroom.

After killing Hochsprung and Sherlach, Lanza entered the main office, but apparently did not see the people hiding there, and returned to the hallway. School nurse Sarah (Sally) Cox, 60, hid under a desk in her office. She later described seeing the door opening and Lanza’s boots and legs facing her desk from approximately 20 feet (6.1 m) away. He remained standing for a few seconds before turning around and leaving. She and the school secretary Barbara Halstead called 9-1-1 and hid in a first-aid supply closet for as long as four hours. Custodian Rick Thorne ran through hallways, alerting classrooms.

Lanza then entered a first-grade classroom where Lauren Rousseau, a substitute teacher, had herded her first grade students to the back of the room, and was trying to hide them in a bathroom, when Lanza forced his way into the classroom.  Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino (a behavioral therapist who had been employed for a week at the school to work with a special needs student), and fifteen students in Rousseau’s class were all killed. Fourteen of the children were dead at the scene; one injured child was taken to a hospital for treatment, but was later declared dead. Most of the teachers and students were found crowded together in the bathroom.  

That last sentence, so gut wrenching, painting an unthinkable picture of just how special the student teacher relationship is. After reading that sentence I closed my eyes and prayed. I prayed for the teachers and students in that bathroom. I prayed for their families. Then I prayed for all of the students I have had the honor of teaching. I also prayed for all of the teachers I have had the pleasure of collaborating with. I forced myself to imagine them in a similar situation. I forced myself to imagine my sons in a similar situation. I implore each of you to do the same. We need to start taking this personal.  We can not become desensitized. This can not become our “normal”.

A six-year-old girl, the sole survivor, was found by police in the classroom following the shooting. The surviving girl was hidden in one of the corners of the classroom’s bathroom during the shooting. The girl’s family pastor said that she survived the mass shooting by remaining still, and playing dead. When she reached her mother, she said, “Mommy, I’m okay, but all my friends are dead.” The child described the shooter as “a very angry man.” A girl hiding in a bathroom with two teachers told police that she heard a boy in the classroom screaming, “Help me! I don’t want to be here!” to which Lanza responded, “Well, you’re here,” followed by more hammering sounds.

A Hartford Courant report said that six of the children who escaped did so when Lanza stopped shooting, either because his weapon jammed or he erred in reloading it. Earlier reports said that, as Lanza entered her classroom, Soto told him that the children were in the auditorium. When several of the children came out of their hiding places and tried to run for safety, Lanza fatally shot them. Soto put herself between her students and the shooter, who then fatally shot her.  Anne Marie Murphy, the teacher’s aide who worked with special-needs students in Soto’s classroom, was found covering six-year-old Dylan Hockley, who also died. Soto and four children were found dead in the classroom, Soto near the north wall of the room with a set of keys nearby. One child was taken to the hospital, but was pronounced dead. Six surviving children from the class and a school bus driver took refuge at a nearby home. According to the official report released by the state’s attorney, nine children ran from Soto’s classroom and survived, while two children were found by police hiding in a class bathroom.  In all, 11 children from Soto’s class survived. Five of Soto’s students were killed.

First grade teacher Kaitlin Roig, aged 29, hid 14 students in a bathroom and barricaded the door, telling them to be completely quiet to remain safe.  It is believed that Lanza bypassed her classroom, which was the first classroom on the left side of the hallway; possibly because, following a lockdown drill weeks earlier, Roig had failed to remove a piece of black construction paper that was covering the small window in her classroom door. Lanza may have assumed that Roig’s classroom was empty because the door was closed and the window covered.

After taking in the moment by moment account of  that morning from the children’s point of view and the point of view of the teachers I naturally began to process it all as a Mom. That is when I struggled the most this morning. Thinking about the surviving parents and forcing myself to really go there and take it personal. I am not sure how or why but in the midst of the devastation and anguish I thought about Nancy Lanza. I willed myself to imagine what it was like to be her. I fought past my instincts to question how she could have missed this. I closed my eyes and pictured one of my children raising and pointing a gun at me. Killing me. It took my breath away. It was in that moment that my anger boiled over.

We all have a responsibility to make a difference, to come together in some way, to ensure this never happens again. I am angry that we get consumed by politics about gun control and the mentally disabled and health care in this country. I wish I had a bigger platform…a stronger influence. Like so many of you I simply feel helpless. I want to scream  “Come on people! Get it together!  Republican? Democrat? WHO CARES!!! We are ALL human beings and we need to work aggressively, tirelessly, to make changes to protect ourselves, our precious babies, and our way of life.”

Guess what!? We do need to make changes to the gun policies in this country. We do need to revamp the mental health care system in this country. We do need to reevaluate the allocation of social services in this country. Let’s not think in absolutes. Life is not black or white. We can make changes, however small, to better support people who are struggling, socially, emotionally, or mentally. It’s simple really, just force yourself to make it personal. Imagine for more than a brief second, that any of these victims are your child, parent, sibling, student, teacher…because if we don’t figure this out soon, one day it could be.

This is personal and we need to take it personal.


Published by tarsha benevento

I am an educator who thrives on helping others. I spent close to 15 years teaching and then as an administrator in the New York City Public School System. During that time I completed my first Masters Degree in Teaching Reading and and additional degree in administration. I currently tutor students in all subjects and grades. In addition, after completing the Parent Advocacy Class with The Federation of Children with Special Needs several years ago, I am a parent advocate. I plan to dedicate my time to helping other families of children with special needs.

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