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Tragedy brings back memories of Sandy Hook

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Columns Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
(218) 333-9819 customer support
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

By Molly Miron, Special to the Pioneer

In the spring of 1957 when I was 10 years old, I moved with my family from Bridgeport, Conn., to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Newtown. My father worked at Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Conn., and my mother held down the society department desk at the Bridgeport Post newspaper.

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They wanted to buy a home, and commuting an hour or so to their jobs seemed OK to them. After a couple of years, they had the wherewithal to purchase a newly built ranch house in Sandy Hook, Conn.

My sister and I rode the school bus to the Mary Elizabeth Hawley Elementary School in downtown Newtown. At the time, the school served grades kindergarten-seven. I started there toward the end of the fifth grade, moved over to the high school in eighth grade and graduated in 1964. Ms. Hawley was a wealthy benefactress who left money to build the school, as well as the Cyrenius H. Booth Library and possibly the town hall.

When we lived in Newtown, it was an upscale suburb of Bridgeport and Danbury. As I recall, the population during my childhood and teen years there was about the same as it is now, 25,000 or so. The town was founded in 1705 and uses the rooster weathervane on the top of the Congregational Church as its logo. Sandy Hook was officially part of Newtown, as were other enclaves such as Dodgingtown and Hawleyville. But Sandy Hook was kind of a poor relative.

At the time, the Sandy Hook shopping center was about one block long and featured a bakery, pharmacy, five-and-dime and a couple of other retail outlets. Factories dating from the days of water power situated along the Pootatuck River made fabric fire hose and molded plastic items.

In more than 40 years since I left, I had not spent one thought of my years in Newtown until Friday’s school shooting. The Sandy Hook Elementary School had not been built when I lived there, but I know the exact location near the fire house.

Since Friday, I have been walking the streets of Newtown in my mind and even in my dreams. The shootings also flashed my mind back to the horror at Red Lake High School on March 21, 2005. I still see the misery and loss on people’s faces.

I learned about the Red Lake tragedy shortly after Jeff Weise ran amok and finally killed himself. I was on the phone at the Pioneer that afternoon when the receptionist came to my cubicle and put a note in front of my face: “Shooting at Red Lake High School.” She said what sounded like a teenaged boy crying had called. I dialed the superintendent’s office and counted seven rings. No answer. The same for the Red Lake Law Enforcement Center. No response meant something very bad, I knew.

I put on my coat, picked up a camera and told Publisher Dennis Doeden what I suspected and where I was going. As I drove north on State Highway 89, I pulled over for numerous ambulances traveling south, lights flashing. I arrived at the high school and walked in the normal entrance.

A Red Lake Police officer saw me and shouted for me to get out, that the scene had not been cleared. I obeyed immediately.

Something like the aftermath of the Red Lake school murders is now unfolding in my former home town. Vigils, rallies, flowers and teddy bear memorials, prayer meetings, wakes, funerals – all testimonies to a community’s efforts to cope with the unthinkable. Nearly eight years have passed and the Red Lakers who were wounded but survived and those who witnessed the killings are now adult men and women. But they will always carry the pain of the day instant death stalked them.

I expect the residents of Newtown will suffer the same effects for generations to come.

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Molly Miron is a freelance reporter and former editor for the Bemidji Pioneer.

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