While 26 people were being massacred at an elementary school in Newtown, I was 50 miles away in Hartford, talking on the radio about the eccentricities of Connecticut. Town nicknames, historical tidbits, “Nutmeggers” vs. “Connecticutians,” that sort of thing. The show was over at 10:00 am ET; I have no idea when the first fragmentary reports made it onto the air.
On my way home, I stopped briefly to talk to my mom on the phone. “There was a shooting at a school in Newtown,” she told me. “Sandy Hook.” Though I write about Connecticut frequently, my awareness of Newtown was primarily geographical. I knew it was an hour and a half from where I live and 40 minutes from where I grew up — New England countryside meets New York suburbia. “Like, a real shooting?” I asked.
I kept driving, checking Twitter updates at every stoplight, and the news slowly spun out like a spool of evil thread, and with the rest of the state I abandoned what I had planned to do that day and sat, numb, switching between channels live-streaming the horror, watching as the world watched us.
Connecticut spent that day, and the following days, in a sort of collective daze. (I am not sure we’re out of it yet; the flags have been raised to full staff and they look out of place there.) But my focus on my home state was interrupted and complicated from the beginning by nagging Jewish thoughts.
Zichronom livracha says the liturgy. And, certainly, the memories of the 26 children and adults who were tragically gunned down in Newtown last week are a blessing, not only to their immediate families but also to all of us across the country who have been struggling to comprehend this incalculable loss.
I grieved for these families as we learned more about their loved ones. But gradually, something made me uneasy. On the one hand, there was so much that was poignant about the details reporters like Anderson Cooper were sharing with us. Time after time, we were introduced to children who “lit up” rooms, displayed angelic smiles, and demonstrated great love and caring for others. But I noticed that there were children we weren’t hearing about. And I couldn’t help wondering about their lives, too. Call it a mother’s intuition — the intuition of a mother of children with special needs. But I was not surprised to hear, eventually, that two of the murdered children, Dylan Hockley, 6, and Josephine Gay, 7, both had autism (to different degrees).
Dylan was reportedly found cradled in the arms of his special-education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, who was trying to shield him with her body. Murphy, a 52-year-old mother of four, was also killed. At Murphy’s funeral, Cardinal Timothy Dolan eulogized, “Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends.” Dylan’s parents had moved their family from England specifically to Newtown because the school district was known to be extremely supportive of children with special needs. His parents have said that they draw some comfort from knowing that he died in Anne Marie’s arms, because Dylan had pointed to her photo excitedly each morning before school, knowing he’d see her soon.