A year later, reflections from somber Newtown
NEWTOWN, Conn. — N-E-W-T-O-W-N.
There's a second W.
Of course, most everyone knows that now. But on that day, even President Obama got it wrong, initially calling us "Newton." We'd been used to that. So easy to overlook that second W.
Until then, our largest claims to fame were being where Scrabble was invented and as home to a particularly grizzly domestic murder that briefly made national news in the 1980s.
Until then, the only attention anyone in the national media had paid to our now-famous Main Street, with its 100-foot flagpole planted in the center of its busiest intersection, had been a 2002 New York Times feature on our excessive devotion to Halloween.
Then, as we all know, changed everything.Then, for me, struck around 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. After a meeting at work, I glanced at my phone as I got up to leave the conference room.
The top email's subject line read: "school lockdown." The sender address indicated it came from Newtown Public Schools. I received it because my daughter was a sophomore at Newtown High.
It was not their first lockdown. An armed robbery at a nearby convenience store had prompted one not that long before, as had the occasional disturbance at a state prison less than a mile from the school.
I still find it a remarkable message, its tone measured, almost business-as-usual, structured to inform but not to panic: "Good Morning. This message is from the Superintendent of the Newtown Public Schools: Due to reports of a shooting, as yet unconfirmed, the district is taking preventative measures by putting all schools in lockdown until we ensure the safety of all students and staff. Thank you."
As it turns out, my daughter was safe, but just a mile away, 20 first graders and six educators were not.
The ensuing hours were a blur.
And as the connections to those involved or affected emerged, the dead weight of shock set in.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, was for a time in my son's grade at the high school, used to hang out at the theater where my son worked, playing Dance Dance Revolution by himself for hours at a time (the staff called him "DDR Guy"), and had been a childhood friend of one of my son's college roommates.
I had chatted with Lanza's mother, Nancy, on occasion at a neighborhood bar over beer and baseball.
Three of the girls who died attended my younger girl's dance school.
The Danbury Hospital emergency room chief, Bill Begg, who treated some victims is a family friend, our older girls co-captained the NHS cross-country team.
The mother of another of their teammates worked at Sandy Hook School.
As pictures of the children began appearing, I saw faces of kids I'd seen so often charging down the aisles of the Big Y supermarket in the middle of town.
On that Sunday, the President came to town to grieve with the families. Watching him on the same stage where my kids had performed their middle school choral and orchestra concerts, reading the names of 20 6 and 7 year olds lost forever in the most unspeakable manner, remains a singularly shattering moment.
A year later, it's not clear to me how much of the shock has faded, for me or for my friends and neighbors. Clearly we are profoundly fatigued.
It remains an unfathomable act.
But the efforts to restart our community are underway. Wednesday night we had our annual Christmas Tree lighting. Main Street was lined with hundreds of luminary candles for the first time since they sprung up everywhere after the attack. But it was festive, not mournful.
It's a small change, but one for the better and hopefully one of many more ahead of us. The most taxing thing is the knowledge that so much of what lies in our future will take place in a national limelight.
And of course now, we no longer need to remind anyone of our second 'W.'
Too bad, really. Our lives would be so much better were that not so.
Dan Burns is Reuters Economics and Financial Markets Editor for the Americas. In 2012, at the time of the Sandy Hook massacre, he was U.S. General News Editor. He has lived in Newtown for 15 years.