- Special Sections
- Public Notices
On Friday, Dec. 14, the nation reeled in horror at news of the tragedy that struck Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when a mentally ill man forced his way inside and murdered 20 children and six adults trying to protect them.
A week later, the loss is still incomprehensible; the sense that if it could happen in Newtown it could happen anywhere.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Lancaster County residents are showing support for the families of Newtown who lost loved ones by honoring the victims and reaching out to others in their own community.
Meanwhile, local family experts, one of whom is from Newton, say attentiveness to the mental health needs of those around you is one of the most important lessons arising from the tragedy.
The first event honoring Sandy Hook Elementary victims took place this morning at 9 a.m. when Meme’s Treasure Box owner Tammy Eudy released 26 green balloons in their memory.
Eudy also hung 26 Christmas stockings in the store window.
“I have buried a child, so I know what it’s like, and this is just kind of my way to help with the healing process,” Eudy said. “I didn’t lose my child from such a tragedy as this, but this is something that no parent should have to deal with by themselves.”
Eudy said she felt as if she needed to pay homage to those who died in Newtown, even if the people there never learned of it, as a way of honoring their grief and sending a message to parents who have lost children to violence in this community.
“We’re all bonded by this, and it’s important to let all families know that we’re here for each other,” Eudy said. “In time, we all heal, but we never forget, and it’s important, that we don’t forget any of the children who passed away.
“We’ve had many parents who have lost children to violence in our own town, and this is a way of letting them know that even though the same blood doesn’t flow through our veins, we’re all family and we’ll get through all this together,” she said.
Eudy’s message about the power of community is also at the heart of a 30-minute candlelight vigil scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday at Buford Elementary School.
Organizer Rusty Duncan, the school’s PTO president, and the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office crime prevention officer, said the idea for the vigil was born of the “helpless” feeling that often accompanies the aftermath of such tragedies as the one in Newtown.
“I think this hits home for people like me who have kids,” Duncan said. “You sympathize with them (the families of Newtown) so much, and it’s a helpless feeling...
“I think it will give people who feel like there’s nothing they can do the feeling that they have done something,” he said, “that they can come out and support the people of Newtown and their families, and their first responders too, because they’re going to have issues they’re going to have to deal with as well.”
Among those who understand first hand the feelings of those in Newtown, Conn., is Lancaster resident and S.C. First Steps Executive Director Susan DeVenny.
DeVenny grew up in Newtown where she was raised with four younger siblings in what she described as an idyllic family community. She compares it to Lancaster, where “everybody knows everybody.”
DeVenny said she has friends among the teachers at Sandy Hook, none of whom were injured in the shooting, and connections to several of the first responders.
She said from speaking with friends, there’s two general reactions among Newtown residents that she’s hearing.
“One is the trauma that it occurred there, and the tragedy of it hitting family, because we are one in Newtown,” DeVenny said. “The other is concern that when people think of our community, they’ll always associate it with the tragedy.”
DeVenny said on a personal level, she’s immensely saddened by the shootings, but on a professional level, as someone who often deals with families and children in distress, she sees several important lessons.
The first takeaway, DeVenny said, is that everyone shares a sense of sorrow and a realization that “it could have been any of
our children,” and that we “all bear responsibility for preventing tragedies such as this from happening again.”
“My professional sense of this, also, is that families in crisis need the support of our communities,” DeVenny said. “At times we haven’t been able to discuss some of the issues around mental illness because there’s a stigma associated with it, but I think there’s nothing sadder than a parent who doesn’t have the tools to deal with a child who has mental illness.”
DeVenny said there’s also a lesson to be learned about parents paying more attention to the unspoken issues their children may be having such as stress, loss and isolation.
She called teachers “first responders” for such issues among children. While educators are doing a good job, DeVenny said they, along with parents, need the understanding and support of the whole community to provide them with resources and tools to deal with students with such issues.
“I wish it wasn’t in my hometown,” DeVenny said of the tragedy. “It’s a sadness I hope we get through and some shred of hope comes out of it and we’ll all pay a little more attention to the needs of our kids.
“I hope we can all learn from this and move on together,” she said.
Talking to kids about Sandy Hook
Though the Sandy Hook shooting occurred a week ago, it’s still possible that some children have been deeply affected by it. Adults as well.
Lancaster County School District Students Services Director Dr. Kathy Durbin, a psychologist and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, said it’s important for parents and caregivers to remember that how they react to the tragedy can shape the way their children react to their perceptions of safety.
“As adults, because sometimes during tragedies like this we’re processing our own feelings, it’s important to be aware of our feelings and how we react in front of our children,” Durbin said. “It’s also important as well to be aware of the feelings our children are having.”
Durbin said it’s nearly impossible for parents to protect their children “100 percent” from exposure to tragedies with the scope of the one in Newtown.
While a child’s reaction to such horrifying news depends on many factors such as the child’s personality, age, whether or not they’ve experienced a recent loss themselves, and more, one thing parents can do is pay attention to how their children act.
“Parents and caregivers need to be sensitive and take a holistic stance,” Durbin said.
“We never know how our children will react, so we need to be aware.”
In the release, Durbin included several tips for parents, all of which apply not only to the Sandy Hook tragedy, but many tragic events in a child’s life:
– Provide a developmentally appropriate, clear and straightforward explanation of the event
– Return to normalcy and routine to the best extent possible while maintaining flexibility
– Let children know it is OK to feel upset
– Be a good listener and observer
– Provide various ways for children to express emotion, either through journaling, writing, letters, talking, making a collage, or music
– Focus on resiliency as
well as the compassion of others
Durbin said LCSD is lucky among school districts in the fact that every school has both counselors and a school psychologist who are available to help parents whose child has ongoing problems associated with tragedy.
Durbin said children are typically resilient and “come back from these kinds of issues, healthy and well. The key, she said, is for family members to guide and encourage them through the process.
“This is a crisis that has affected our entire country,” Durbin said. “But it can be a vehicle to bring our country and families together.
“This brings home the importance of family and loved ones,” she said. “And it’s an opportunity for all of us to make sure and hug the ones we love.”
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151