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School shootings in the United States. The stories of the survivors

To continue to live after having seen 20 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton and other 6 adults killed by a youth in his twenties who opened fire with an automatic rifle and eventually committed suicide, entails the stark realization that horror, evil and suffering are an unavoidable occurrence of everyday life

(from New York) Surviving the death of a daughter, of a colleague, of tens of parishioners victims of mass shooting, such as those that continue lashing the United States, requires time, coupled by unanswered questions and endless debates. For some people it requires faith, for others social engagement. To continue to live after having seen 20 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton and other 6 adults killed by a youth in his twenties who opened fire with an automatic rifle and eventually committed suicide, entails the stark realization that horror, evil and suffering are unavoidable occurrences of everyday life. Meeting Dawn Ford, a teacher who survived the massacre of December 14, 2012, Jenny Hubbard, mother of Catherine Violet, murdered in her classroom, and Father Peter Cameron, at the time assistant parish priest in the town of Connecticut, now editor-in-chief of the magazine Magnificat, meant looking into the eyes and into the life of people whose sorrow has become a path for redemption and transformation. We’re in New York, in the heart of Wall Street, in Communion and Liberation’s Crossroads Cultural Centre. As they spoke about the days and weeks that followed the massacre, Dawn, Jenny, Father Robert,  opened up completely without holding back the tears. They were forced to face the truth of death but the support of their community extended throughout the whole Country.

“I served as assistant to the parish priest in Saint Rose of Lima church in Newton”, said Father Peter. That morning I received a phone call from a friend who informed be about the massacre. I drove up to the church and I extemporized a Holy Mass attended by more than two thousand people. I imagined that that single act of violence would have sparked off thousands of acts of kindness and solidarity. In fact that’s precisely what happened.”

A month after the massacre the parish church organized several support meetings for children, parents and all the school staff to help them go back to that school. Our church was always full of people.

During one of the meetings Father Peter met Jenny Hubbard, the mother of Katherine Violet, “a woman who managed to make sense of that horror.” Jenny shies away, but when the memories of that morning come back to her mind she finds it hard to conceal her emotions. “That day Katherine didn’t want to go to school, she wanted to help me make ginger bread. We wanted to surprise her father upon his return from a business trip with the typical Christmas cake. Katherine broke out in tears, asking me to stay home at all costs. After a few hours I received a phone call from the firefighters: my son, who went to the same school, couldn’t find his sister. He felt responsible because before leaving, his father had told him to look after her.” Jenny told us about the long hours spent praying in the fire station. At 4.13 a.m. she was informed that Catherine was one of the victims. This mother found herself having to take decisions she would never have imagined: choosing a coffin, recognizing the remains of her daughter in the obituary, organizing her funeral. “I can’t say whether my faith was strong, whether I had an answer to all the questions. For five years the Heavens were closed for me and God was silent”, Jenny said openheartedly. Today she has regular meetings with hundreds of families with whom she shares the faith that was her salvation. It helped her heal from a carnage. “One day, as I was sitting at the kitchen table,

I opened the Bible and I started to read out loud.

My son was beside me. I needed to understand how to move on as a wife, as a mother and as a citizen. For months, all of us in Newton were seeking answers to what had happened.” Jenny’s answer was to create the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary in Newtown, a animal care centre that also provides support to people who could benefit from having a pet: “Catherine used to say she would have taken care of all the animals, she fed them, looked after them, they were her passion. She even printed visiting cards with the words: ‘Catherine animal shelter.”

Dawn taught science at Sandy Hook. She had always refused to talk about what she had seen: that open wound was still too painful. But after the Florida Parkland school shooting she realized that she could no longer remain silent. “Friends and family encouraged me.” This was the first time she spoke in public. On the morning of the massacre Dawn was in the staff room for a meeting. As she was about to take the floor she was stopped by the noise of gunfire: “I thought that a heap of chairs had fallen in the cafeteria.” Alarmed by that constant sound, the headmaster, a psychologist and a teacher reached the entrance to see what was happening. “After a few minutes, Natalie, the lead teacher, returned to the conference room. She was limping and her hands were full of blood. She locked the door while we all spread out to the corners of the room and Natalie slipped down the wall.” With a trembling voice Dawn described the sequence of shots followed by silence, more gunshots and again silence. In one of those moments she reached the phone on the wall that would activate the loudspeakers. She was determined to ask for help, but as soon as she dialled the numbers for the external line she was forced to stop because the sound of gunfire had grown stronger and closer. Several weeks later Dawn learned that she had managed to activate an emergency procedure that triggered immediate intervention and prevented more people from being killed. As soon as they realised that the police was outside, Dawn opened the door asking for help holding Natalie, now in a pool of blood, in her arms. The first respondents rescued the wounded woman and told all teachers to come out of the school.

“I walked across the hall and I saw the principal and the psychologist lying on the ground. I wondered why nobody was helping them. I took me many hours to realize that they were dead”;

she went on with a voice broken by tears. Her thoughts went to her autistic son who was working in the library. Fortunately one of the librarians had closed him in the bathroom with stuffed animals and teddy bears to make him feel protected. She then ran to check on her pupils until she saw them all safe and sound as they were being brought outside by a rescuer. “I call upon political leaders to intervene to ensure that tragedies such as this one may never happen again.”

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