Monday, December 14, 2015

December 14: Not Just Another Day.

Mornings in the Murray household are pretty chaotic, especially the last half hour before heading out the door. Mommy is finishing up getting ready, all the while coaxing the boys off the couch and upstairs to get dressed and to brush their teeth. It’s a mad dash to get out the door by 7:35, and more often than not it generally involves me yelling, the two of them poking one another incessantly and then being sassy, and me yelling some more. By the time I drop them off at school, I feel like l have ran a half marathon. I anxiously rush them into their school building, and then take a deep breath once back in the car. At last…peace and quiet!

I visit our parish chapel most mornings after drop-off for 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time with My God, always praying for the safety and protection of my boys right next door, as well as the opportunity to be more patient with them later in the day. Most Mondays I light a candle for our week, praying for specific needs our family may have. It’s my time with My God. It quiets my soul and prepares me for my day, while also settles me from the craziness experienced just a few moments earlier.

I’m confident a similar morning experience is shared by many young families. The hurried frenzy…the "listening ears" turned to their OFF position…the words of frustration sometimes spoken to start our day that we wish we could take back once we drop them off. A deep breath, a few prayers, and some peace and quiet later, we think of our children and smile. But, 30 minutes prior to that, we are pulling our hair out!

On December 14, 2012, I’m confident there were many young families going through the same maddening morning routine. They dropped their kiddos off at school, or pushed them along onto their busses, thankful for the peace and quiet that occurred once their little darlings were gone. But, a few dozen mommies and daddies in Newtown, Connecticut didn’t have the chance to make it right later that day. Three years ago today 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary. Prior to driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home.  As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

Every parent’s worst nightmare occurred in Newtown, CT that dreadful morning three years ago today.

My December 14, 2012 was a day like most. A crazy morning trying to get my then-first grader and pre-schooler out the door. They weren’t quite as sassy as they are now as fourth and first graders, but our mornings were still chaotic! I went about my day, working as a Marketing Manager for Panera Bread. We had just opened the downtown Cincinnati / Fountain Square bakery-cafe, and if my memory serves me correct, I was downtown that day to support those post opening efforts.  After work, I went straight over to my Oma’s house to pick her up for our annual holiday shopping outing. I would load her and her wheelchair into my Toyota Highlander, and we would venture out for dinner at Bob Evan’s, and then hit a few stores that she needed holiday odds-and-ends from, like Kohl’s, Meijer, etc. It was hard for Oma to get in and out of the car at that point – she was 87, and when it was cold, her “wooden leg” got stiff…as did the rest of her body. So, other than dinner and a stroll through Kohl’s in her wheelchair, she would stay in the car while I ran in and out picking up the various items she needed for her family members and friends. She would stay in the car and listen to Christmas carols on my radio.

During our holiday journey around Highland Heights, KY that evening Oma asked if I’d heard about the horrible school shooting in Connecticut that day. I had not. Although I am field based, I often go about my day with the radio off. I either pray, or just take in the peace and quiet within the confines of my vehicle. I hadn’t watched any TV that day or listened to the radio until I tuned in the Christmas carols for her that evening. She told me a bit about what she’d watched on the TV earlier that day, and I just shook my head – yet another school shooting, I thought.

After getting Oma settled into her condo with all her holiday flare that night, I started home. I hadn’t been back to the house since before school and work that day. My aunt Kathy had picked up the boys from school, and hung with them until their daddy got home, since I had an evening with Oma planned right after work. I merged onto Interstate 275 and settled in for my 20-minute drive home and thought I would catch up on the school shooting details on Cincinnati’s am station, 700 WLW.

It was far more horrific than I’d even imagined.  A young monster walked into an unassuming elementary school in a small Connecticut town and opened fire. Twenty innocent first graders were murdered that morning, along with six teachers / administrators in a senseless act of evil. My mind immediately went to my first grader, Connor. Our school is a small private Catholic school in Amelia, OH. It’s totally inconspicuous, tucked into middle-class suburbia, with kids who are taught morals and values and how to love their God, and parents who are invested in the academics of their children. But, Sandy Hook Elementary seemed much the same in many ways.

Twenty little first graders went off to school that morning, probably some of which experienced the mad-dash craziness (just like mine do most mornings), but never lived to see their mommy and daddy that evening. They had hopes of Santa coming in 11 days, and thoughts of playing in the snow during their upcoming Christmas break, and all the hopes and dreams that little six and seven year olds can hold. All of this was stolen by the devil in disguise carrying a semi-automatic weapon.

The radio station spent a few minutes talking about this senseless act, and then proceeded to play one of those montage songs that combines a heart-wrenching tune with words spoken from the event. I could barely stand what I heard. First responders speaking of the horror they encountered that day; teachers crying tears of fear for what occurred at their place of employment; neighbors recounting the moments they saw unfolding in front of them at the neighboring school…all set to Silent Night.

I got home in tears and hugged my boys that night, thankful to be in their presence, as did probably millions of American parents the night of December 14, 2012.

I recently completed the book Choosing Hope, an inspirational memoir by Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who saved her entire class of first graders on that horrific morning by piling all sixteen of them (and herself) into a single-occupancy bathroom within her classroom, only feet from the massacre taking place outside the door. The first grade class next door to them was blown to pieces. The unit in the book entitled MY DARKEST HOUR is hard to read – nearly 80 pages outlining the gripping way this tragedy occurred for her and her little “friends.”

First comes the initial blast of gunfire, then the sound of shattering glass. The hair on my arms stands up. I know right away what I’m hearing. Columbine is happening in the place we call Pleasantville. How can it be? Someone with a weapon is shooting their way into our perfect school. My classroom is the first in the building. We are in grave danger. Sitting targets. I jump up, run to the door, pull it closed, and switch off the lights. Thanks God for the dark blue construction paper I taped to the door for a lockdown drill and forgot to take it down. I can’t lock the door. My keys are clear across the room, on top of my desk, and there’s no time to fetch them. For what? A locked door is no match for a magazine of bullets. If we’re going to live, we have to find a hiding place. Fast. I look around the classroom. My students don’t seem to understand what is happening. One, the little girl I call our fashionista, because she wears things like leopard prints and leggings, stands there smiling. I can’t tell if she is somehow oblivious to the sounds or frozen scared. The windows don’t open wide enough for a first-grader to climb through, and who knows what or who is waiting outside. Evil is coming for us and there’s nowhere to go.

Where can we hide? Where can we hide? There’s only one place. The bathroom – a tiny first-grade-sized lavatory with only a toilet and a toilet-paper dispenser inside. Its dimensions are about the size of two first-grade desks pushed together. Maybe three feet by four feet. There is so little space that the sink is on the outside, in the classroom. I have never been inside of the bathroom before. An adult wouldn’t fit comfortably. How in God’s name will I get sixteen of us in there? It is our only chance. The impossible will have to become possible.

This heroic, twenty-six-year-old teacher crammed 16 little first graders and herself into that tiny space where they hunkered down for nearly an hour until the SWAT team coaxed them out (she was leery at first to open the door…partially in shock, but primarily just terrified). “Mrs. Roig” saved 16 little lives that day, yet felt lost in body, mind and spirit for quite some time after the tragedy. She couldn’t get the sight of the blood-stained hallways her class had to walk through in order to exit the building that day, or the shrieks she heard from students next door to her classroom as they uttered their last words on this earth before being murdered. She had lost colleagues, and her school community had lost 20 other first graders…it very well likely could have been her class. Her and her students came closer to death than any of us would dare to imagine, and it stunned her for a while. But, she didn’t let it define her, and soon committed herself to making this mess her message of hope. She now travels the country as an inspirational speaker for teachers and academic organizations, and is the Executive Director of Classes 4 Classes, Inc., an organization whose mission is to connect classrooms to care and to teach every child in our nation that our lives are not separate but very connected.

A November 2013 report issued by the Connecticut State Attorney's office concluded that Adam Lanza acted alone and planned his actions on that December 14 morning in 2012 when he opened fire on an innocent school, but no evidence collected provided any indication as to why he performed this horrific act, or why he targeted this particular school. Case in point – it could happen anywhere. Evil knows no boundaries.

Most mornings are crazy for my household, and I admit to being one of those mommies who flies off the handle more often than not in our early-morning frenzies. But, since reading “Miss Roig’s” book these past few weeks, I’ve been a little calmer in the mornings. I try to take the the time to not only give my boys a kiss before sending them on their way, but look them in their eyes and hug them tight (even if I don’t get a warm embrace in return!).

Today, after dropping them off I headed over to the parish chapel and asked God’s grace on the twenty-six angels who lost their lives in that senseless act of violence three years ago – only 11 days from the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. My heart felt heavy for the families of those 20 little innocent first graders (my youngest is now in first grade), who would now be in the fourth grade (just like my oldest is today).

I get to spend the next 11 days among the frenzied holiday countdown of dealing with Christmas tantrums, and wrapping their presents in preparation for the big celebration, and somewhat dreading the two weeks they will be off school and home pulling one another’s hair out each and every day. How blessed I am to have these worries. And, may God bless those Sandy Hook mommies and daddies who don’t have their fourth graders to hold this holiday season, for the fourth Christmas in a row. I pray a peace that surpasses understanding is upon their hearts on this day, and I thank God I still have my baby boys to hold this Christmas.


  1. Really love reading your posts Melanie :) Keep them coming, they remind me of what's most important. -- Sue Reninger

    1. Thank you for reading my blog, Sue, and for your encouraging words.

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