Sand In My Shoes

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS ALWAYS ECHO NEWTOWN

Newtown.

As soon as I heard the school shooting news from Parkland, Florida, my mind flashed back to Newtown, Connecticut.

When I turned on the TV cable news, viewing the crumpled faces of the survivors and the anguished families of the dead, all I thought about was Newtown.

I spent 40 years in three major American cities as a daily newspaper columnist and whenever any of my college journalism students ask the worst story I ever covered, I say, “Newtown.”

On Wednesday morning I was talking to my class about Newtown not knowing that, at that same time, another monster—whose parents used to live in Farmingdale, LI—armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, was killing high school students in Parkland, Florida.

On Wednesday night, after an overdose of necro-news I had trouble sleeping, thinking of the wake of Chase Kowalski, 7, lying in a closed white coffin the size of a toy chest.

In Newtown.

When I awakened on Thursday morning there was an email from Dennis Statford, of Newtown, who was one of the lucky parents reunited with his children outside the Sandy Hook School, where he worked as a school courier.

“Denis: As gun arguments and mental health debates rage on today, shocked and stunned families will be searching for funeral homes and the perfect coffins to lay their loved ones to rest. They will then return home to stare into empty bedrooms that hold nothing but memories. Peace, Dennis.”

I thought again of Chase Kowalski’s wake. Hundreds of mourners stood in line in the parking lot and on the street to pray over a murdered child as I sat with Becky Kowalski in a private office in the Spadaccino Funeral Home. Becky told me about the worst day of her life, that black Friday when she learned that her little boy was one of the 20 kids murdered with an AR-15 assault rifle.

Then Becky Kowalski described what she called the best day of her life, the Sunday after Chase’s murder, when she said that her son came to her in a vision. “I felt that my son was here in this vision to tell me that the not-for-profit scholarship organization that we are starting in Chase’s honor will save lives, change building codes, demand gun and ammunition control, and that in Chase’s name I would like to bring God back to America.”

Well, the Congress that failed little Chase Kowalski in life is still failing him five years after his murder. School safety codes are still lax. There has been no gun or ammunition control in Chase’s name or in the names of the 438 shot, and 138 killed, in 239 school shootings since Newtown. And God didn’t show up in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, or at any of some 1100 mass shootings nationwide compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, with at least 1,250 people killed and 4,500 wounded since Newtown.

Sorry, God stayed home.

The demon showed up. And this time, in Parkland, the fiend was still carrying an AR-15 assault rifle like the one that killed Chase Kowalski and all the others in Newtown.

I knew that day in that funeral parlor in Newtown that if the United States Congress wasn’t moved by 20 slaughtered children and six educators in the Yuletide, if they didn’t have the courage, human decency and patriotism to stop taking blood money from the death merchants of the National Rifle Association as the endless funeral bells pealed from white steeples across Newtown, that there would never, ever be serious gun control in America.

Congress did nothing about guns then.

This Republican Congress, which has fewer balls than the Rockettes, will do nothing now. On January 20, Donald Trump gave a truly dreadful inaugural speech, declaring, “This American carnage stops right here and right now . . .”

Uh huh.

There were 318 mass shootings in 2017 after that speech. There have been five school shootings in the past 35 days. And instead of gun control, Trump and Congress are pushing a bill that would allow any cretin with a registered gun in any state to bring it across state lines into little towns like Parkland and big cities like New York.

On Thursday I asked Dennis Stratford of Newtown, how he was feeling in the aftermath of the latest school shooting.

He replied: “Until every lawmaker stands outside of a school or restaurant or factory with their hearts in their throats waiting for a child or loved one to emerge while a massacre is underway with a military weapon, until they lay prone over a loved one, shielding them from a machine gun at a music concert, they will continue to take NRA money and skip into a work environment called the Congress that doesn’t even allow pea shooters.

“They want to build walls with victims’ tax money to keep out a ‘threat’ that is already nestled into neighborhoods everywhere across our great nation. When the forefathers were drawing up a Second Amendment that allowed protection from a muzzle-loaded musket, nobody burst into the room to notify them that their family had just been slaughtered with a weapon that didn’t have a name yet. I say this with minimum anger and maximum empathy for all human beings that have the pleasure to walk this earth. Through it all, I am still blessed to know why the caged bird sings. With peace and love, Dennis.”

Then, as the grief continued over another school shooting in Florida, Dennis Stratford went back to work for a school in Newtown.

To comment on Sand in My Shoes, email denishamill@gmail.com.