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Haunted by Newtown: Parents struggle with safety fears after tragedy

 

Parents pick their children up from school Thursday afternoon at Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus. Parents nationwide have been on edge since last week's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Parents pick their children up from school Thursday afternoon at Annunciation Catholic School in Columbus. Parents nationwide have been on edge since last week's shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Photo by: Carmen K. Sisson/Dispatch Staff

 

Sarah Fowler

 

Monday morning, students grabbed their jackets and back packs, lunch boxes and homework and loaded on school buses or in the back seat of SUV's just like they do every morning before school. They spent the car ride singing to the radio, eating breakfast bars they grabbed as they were hurriedly walking out the door and arguing with their siblings in the back seat.  

 

However, this past Monday, morning routines that seemed mundane in nature took on a different meaning for parents.  

 

As parents pulled up in the drop-off line, many could not escape haunting thoughts: Would this be the last time they took their child to school? Would it be the last time they saw a flash of hair as their child turned and waved before walking in class? Would it be the last time they heard the words, "I love you, Mommy?" Would it be the last time they saw their child alive?  

 

It has been one week since the massacre of 20 school children in Newtown, Conn., and many parents are still grasping to understand how such a horrific event could occur. They have also wondered if such a tragedy could happen at their children's school, if their child's school could be the next Sandy Hook Elementary.  

 

Since the shooting, schools across the nation have fielded calls from parents seeking reassurance that their schools are doing all they can to keep their children safe.  

 

"Of course, there are going to be questions,'' said Janet Lewis, who works at Heritage Academy. "That's just human nature because it's going to make you stop and think." 

 

For Terri Doumit, a mother of four, one of whom is a kindergartner, Friday's tragedy created emotions she could not seem to shake. As she took her children to school Monday morning, she looked in her rear view mirror and counted her blessings. All four of them.  

 

 

 

Emotional Monday 

 

Doumit said she and her children were on their way to school when a radio station began talking about the shooting. She took that moment to talk with them about what they would do if they were ever confronted with a situation that had been unimaginable before Friday.  

 

Doumit said she told her children to find a safe place and hide.  

 

She said her kindergartner asked, in a way that only children can, "What if they find us and they're going to hurt us anyway?" 

 

Doumit said in that moment she relied on her faith and prayed she told her child the right thing. Choking back tears, the young mother said she told her children, "Just look up to the sky and picture Jesus' face and know that he is reaching his hand down for you."  

 

"OK,'' her six-year-old responded simply. 

 

"It would be nice if parents had the same kind of faith that children do," Doumit said.  

 

As she pulled her minivan up to the curb and her children climbed out just like they do every morning, Doumit said she was overcome with emotion as she thought about the conversation she just had with her son.  

 

"I can't believe my six-year-old could understand that," she said. 

 

As she drove away, Doumit said the gravity of Friday's shooting resonated with her and she began to cry.  

 

"After I dropped them off and I was driving along, I was just thinking, 'What do you as a parent do if something like that happens to your child?'" she said. "I just thought, 'those poor parents.' 

 

"I am so blessed that on Monday I did not have to think about burying my child," she said. 

 

 

 

Home-schooling? 

 

For Carmine Muscarella, a single father of three young girls, Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook made him question whether home-schooling were the best option for his children.  

 

At the time of the shooting, Muscarella was attending his daughter's Christmas musical at Caledonia Elementary.  

 

"We were all at the elementary school," he recalled. "I'm standing around with the other parents, half of the people dressed in uniform, and by the time I made it back to work I saw what had happened," he said. "It was all very surreal for all of us. Finding out it was kindergartners, young, elementary age kids..." Muscarella said, his voice trailing off. 

 

"It's hard to get a firm hold on how horrible it really is." 

 

An Air Force veteran, Muscarella said he is considering different options for his daughter's education.  

 

"A lot of parents have started talking about home-schooling," he said. "If I was in a different situation, I really would consider it." 

 

Maribeth Holliman has a first-grader at Cook Elementary. Holliman said she mourned the lives lost in Connecticut with the rest of the nation, but was not concerned for her child's safety on Monday morning.  

 

"I feel very safe with him at Cook," she said. "I know the teachers and the staff would take care of him." 

 

Still, she does wonder. "Things like that aren't supposed to happen here," she admitted. "They aren't supposed to happen in your town." 

 

Derek Nelson, a father of three young children and a police officer with the Starkville Police Department, echoed Holliman's thoughts that no parent ever prepares themselves for such a horrific event.  

 

"As a police officer, we have prepared our minds for bad things to happen and our focus is on trying to protect our community, our children. But as a father, nothing can prepare us for a tragedy like this," he said. "At this point, it's hard for a parent to allow our children from our sight. We just want to hold on to them and protect them from this dark world, but we can't. And letting them go every day is the hard part." 

 

 

 

Armed presence? 

 

Nelson said he considered donning his uniform and standing guard outside of his daughter's school.  

 

"I wouldn't doubt that any parent has thought of standing guard," he said. "What parent wouldn't want to protect their child?" 

 

Nelson said he realizes that while parents may have the urge to stop their day-to-day routine and not leave their child's side, they have to continue with their lives.  

 

"That's where it becomes hard for parents because we have to continue with normal life," he said. "This is where we have to trust our school system and our local police department to provide upgraded security and protection."  

 

Muscarella agreed with Nelson, saying that by living in fear, the gunman continues to inflict harm.  

 

"It's not something that's going to stop me from trying to lead as normal of a life as possible," he said. "We shouldn't let a crazy person have that much of a victory over the entire country. That would be admitting defeat. 

 

"If we live in fear, we're saying not only did he hurt that town, but he hurt the entire country the way everyone looks over their shoulder when they walk out the door. We're going to keep living. My kids are still going to go to school and get an education. We're not just going to curl into a ball."

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.

 

 

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