When a 6-year-old boy shot and killed her little sister 23 years ago, Elizabeth Krasinski says, she forgave him.
It took her years to forgive herself.
Now, it has happened again — a 6-year-old child brought a gun to school and shot someone. This time, a child shot his teacher inside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia: the teacher, Abigail Zwerner, survived and is in stable condition. Krasinski said the anger over her sister's death came flooding back when she heard that the shooter was, as she put it, "another child."
“I knew, even when I was 11 years old, that the child (who shot my sister) wasn’t educated,” she says. “If this child was educated on the amount of damage and the amount of hurt this weapon could do, then he wouldn’t have... you know. He just didn’t have a full understanding.”
Elizabeth was just 11 in 2000, and it was her responsibility to get her younger brother and her 6-year-old sister, Kayla Rolland, off to school.
"My sister didn't want to go — she was like that sometimes," Krasinski, a now 34-year-old mom of four living in Michigan, tells TODAY.com. "I forced her to go though, because I knew I was going to get in trouble. The whole time, we just fought and screamed and bickered at each other. I remember the last thing we ever said to each other: She said she hated me, and I told her I hated her."
Later that morning, inside her Buell Elementary School first grade classroom, Kayla was shot by a 6-year-old classmate who had brought a loaded gun to school, the New York Times reported. She was rushed to Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan and pronounced dead at 10:29 a.m.
Krasinski was pulled out of her middle school history class.
"I was in history class when I got pulled out for my sister, and I was in history class when the Twin Towers got hit by the planes," she recalls.
Krasinski met her brother in the principal's office and says no one told either sibling what had happened. It wasn't until their stepfather picked them up and drove them to the hospital that they learned their sister had been shot.
"We got to the hospital and that's when my mom told me she was gone," Krasinski says. "I didn't believe her. My sister would play jokes — she wanted to be funny and she wanted to be the light of any space. I told her: 'No, Kayla is playing a trick on us.' So she finally let me go into the room to see her. I remember looking at her, and the blue was starting to set in. I remember going to the table and shaking her to wake her up — telling her to wake up — and she didn't wake up."
Shootings carried out by someone so young are extremely rare, according to David Riedman, founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, which has been tracking U.S. school shootings since 1970.
The Newport News school shooting this month "is the 17th shooting by someone under 10 years of age in a school," he said. "It’s rare for a 6-year-old to pull the trigger."
Krasinski says that when she found out the shooting was carried out by "another child" she was "angry with the parents and angry with society."
While Krasinski says her mother shielded her from the details of her sister's shooting, when she turned 18 she did some "digging" and learned more about the 6-year-old child who killed Kayla.
She learned that the child was living in a known drug house with his uncle, as reported by Michigan local news MLive; the boy's father was incarcerated and his mother had been evicted from their family home two weeks before the shooting.
The boy's uncle, Marcus Winfrey, pleaded guilty to possessing the stolen gun used in the shooting, according to the Associated Press, and another man living in the home, Jamelle James, pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter for leaving the weapon in a shoebox in his bedroom. He was sentenced to between 2-15 years in prison, the Associated Press reported.
"Reading back on his upbringing, I was like: 'Oh my god, you are a poverty-stricken child going through the same problems we were going through,'" Krasinski says. "It was a whole, repeated pattern."
Krasinski says she never blamed the 6-year-old boy for killing his sister, or the gun itself. As a defender of the Second Amendment and a registered gun owner, she says she has never wanted her sister's death to be used as a political talking point in the gun control debate. She grew up hunting with her father, and was accustomed to having guns inside her childhood home.
Instead, she says she blamed herself for her sister's death.
"I was the one who sent her to school," she says. "It was my fault, because I was the one who made her go. After I got over the guilt of it, I became bitter — I was bitter at my sister for leaving me."
It wasn't until Krasinski gave birth to her first child in 2011 — a daughter she named Kayla — that she was able to forgive herself and her sister.
"When I first saw my daughter, I realized I was holding onto so much hate," she explains. "Looking at my daughter, I was like: 'Oh my god, you are the perfect combination of me and my sister.' Why would I want to hold onto so much bitterness when everything about both me and my sister in this one person, is perfect?"
While Krasinski misses Kayla desperately, she says she would greet the boy, now an adult, who shot and killed her sister with open arms.
"If I met him, I would hug him and I would tell him that he was a child and he did not understand what he was doing," she says. "Don't let that one incident define the person that he is."