In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Haunted by Newtown massacre a year later

On the eve of this first anniversary, I tell my daughter that I’m writing about Newtown — and she stops me cold.

She was nearly nine months pregnant when the children of Sandy Hook Elementary were gunned down; we had huddled on the couch, called her sister in Connecticut and watched the news in horror that day.

Erica, a special education teacher at a middle school, is now the mother of a cherubic baby girl

“I can’t go there,” she tries to explain herself. “I can’t imagine sending my child to school and never seeing her again. I just can’t.”

I drown the emotion welling in my heart and return to my writing desk because that’s what writers do. We try to make sense of the unspeakable, the random and horrific — report, research, reason — and we strive to find solutions where they’re most elusive.

But this is different, too close to home, personal.

In the year since 20 children and six educators were murdered in Newtown by a mad young man armed with high-powered assault weapons, I’ve been to Connecticut twice. Every time, I made plans to visit the town, talk to its people, write about their pain and their hope.

I’ve packed my journalist badge and motherly empathy and set out to search for something I can’t quite pin-point, but I know is there. Yet I never make it to Newtown, paralyzed by the feelings my daughter has just verbalized.

Instead, I end up in similarly quaint small towns, trying to escape the inescapable searching for answers: How could this happen? Why did it happen?

This wavering, the doubt and holding back, the litany of excuses I start to list to get out of Ground Zero — has never happened to me in three decades of covering human tragedies, from perilous boatlifts to deadly hurricanes.

Respect for the families and the depths of their pain has kept me away, surely. No one can feel the emotional impact like the victims’ families. But when 20-year-old Adam Lanza ended the lives of innocents, firing the weapons his mother had gifted him, this isolated young man who lived in darkness and was obsessed with mass killings also stole the peace of mind of every parent in this country.

And, worse yet, we’ve been not been able to do a thing to curb that kind of violence.

Another school shooting rocked the country Friday, this time at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo. — and now I know that after this too we will turn the page and move on.

Despite the initial momentum to curb access to weapons, the heated national debate on gun control spurred by the Newtown tragedy has fizzled. The conversation has evolved to ridiculous lengths to make change more palatable to the Second Amendment stalwarts, to no avail.

“Gun safety” instead of gun control, as if nomenclature could bridge our differences.

When I wrote about the Newtown shooting last year, I wondered if this country loved its guns more than its children. I still wonder, watch — and hope.

In Connecticut and surrounding states, playgrounds have risen to honor the “angels” slaughtered and replace sadness with joy. Sandy Hook Elementary, site of the massacre, was demolished, the steel melted, the brick crushed to smithereens to prevent more macabre violations of the peace in the once-tranquil town.

A new school, to open in 2016, will be built on this “sacred ground,” as Robert Mitchell, chairman of the town’s public building commission, calls Sandy Hook.

But what cannot be soothed or razed is our collective lingering anguish — and the frustration of seeing how the horror of Dec. 14, 2012, wasn’t enough to move the country to action.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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