I watched with horror on Friday, along with people across the country and around the world, as details emerged from the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. As a journalist who has been in newsrooms for 20 years and dealt with the grief that comes with covering terrible stories, I was struck by how sad this felt. As the father of a new kindergartner, it started to become clear where these emotions were coming from.
My Facebook feed quickly filled with posts from friends, many of whom are parents of children in my 5-year-old son’s age group. Some had just dropped their children off at schools here in Seattle and were reacting to reports on the radio or elsewhere that 20 little kids were shot dead. “What is wrong with this world?” they asked. I texted my wife, gripped for a moment by a need to know that she was at home, able to hug our son, a safe 3,000 miles from the shooting scene.
I fired off a quick email to friends who live in Connecticut, concerned for their emotions about a tragedy in their home state but never dreaming they would be directly touched by it. “Devastated to say this is our school,” came a reply from my wife’s childhood best friend. She and her husband have five boys. Three of them were at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday. “They r all safe. Heartbroken beyond words,” her message concluded.
My wife called crying after learning the same news, via a post on Facebook. She called her friend and they cried together briefly over the phone. They promised each other to hug their young boys extra tight tonight. It was a command that even President Obama told the nation he would be following. “This evening, Michelle and I will do what every parent in America will tonight, which is hug our children a little tighter and tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind ourselves how deeply we need them,” the president said during a televised news conference.
Later in the afternoon, my wife forwarded another email, this time from the superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. “Even if you feel the world is an unsafe place, you can reassure your child by saying, ‘The event is over. Now we’ll do everything possible to stay safe, and together we can help get things back to normal,’” the note read in part.
My eyes filled with tears again as I thought back on the innocence of other email correspondence from my son’s school and the PTA. We were told to dress him warm for a trip to get a Halloween pumpkin. We were advised on what kind of behavior would be expected on the bus ride to go see a production of “Cat in the Hat.”
When my son entered kindergarten this fall and started down that long path of schooling, I did what most parents do. I took a lot of pictures, and I cried. Letting go and releasing your child “into the wild” is very unnerving. But you visit the classroom where he spends his days, you see the loving teacher and the perfect decorations on the walls and in the halls, and you assure yourself that your child is safe. What evil thing could ever enter this place? Perhaps I would have been so naïve as to ask the same question at Columbine or Virginia Tech. Sadly, today I’m fearing for a future in which my son will believe any horror is possible.
Kurt Schlosser is an entertainment editor for TODAY.com.