EIGHINGER: Crying through the heartbreak and remembering the bravery

Posted: Dec. 20, 2012 8:11 am Updated: Jan. 17, 2013 12:15 pm

The funerals have begun in Newtown, Conn., where 20 young children are being laid to rest following the senseless shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Like many, I find it impossible to block out the horror of last Friday when a madman shot and killed 20 boys and girls who were the same age as two of my grandkids. He also shot six brave school administrators and teachers who tried their best to prevent the catastrophe.

How are we supposed to deal with this? I honestly have no idea. I feel absolutely no sympathy or pity for the young man who pulled the trigger on those children, school personnel -- and his own mother -- before killing himself. I have been wrestling with that dilemma since last Friday. My faith tells me I should also feel sorrow for the gunman, but then I see the faces of those children, whose lives were ended before they had started, my only feeling is anger.

I remember standing in my living room early Friday evening as my wife sat and watched an NBC report from Newtown. That was about the time some of the more brutal details began to emerge. I watched the tears stream from her eyes.

"I have been crying all day," she said.

Later that night, I listened as our president addressed the nation. I watched him pause several times and wipe his eyes.

Over the weekend, I watched numerous sporting events have moments of silence. One of those, in Miami, was particularly emotional. Miami Heat players gathered with their children before he start of their NBA game that particular night.

"I'm a father first, before anything else," said Heat player Dwyane Wade.

On Sunday morning, the Rev. Chuck Sackett of Madison Park Christian Church talked in length about a close friend of his, a fellow pastor, whose church is in Newtown, one that hosted one of many prayer vigils in that small town following the tragedy.

The New York Daily News carried a report in which Daniel Honan, the director of Newtown's only funeral home was quoted.

"I've never seen anything like this, never," Honan said.

In order to prepare for what he called "the week from hell," the Daily News reported Honan had hired between 25 and 30 new temporary employees to add to his normal staff of two.

By now, we have all seen some or all of the pictures of the children and the school administrators and teaches who lost their lives. It is heartbreaking beyond belief. Absolutely heartbreaking.

And as horrible as this unspeakable massacre was, it could have been worse. The stories have begun to emerge about people like Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher. The following is from another Daily News account:

Teacher Victoria Soto used her body to shield her students from the maniacal gunman who launched a massacre at a Connecticut school, relatives said.

Soto paid for her bravery with her life.

But in doing so, the 27-year-old may have saved her first-graders from the murderous wrath of Adam Lanza -- and became a hero.

"The family received information she was found shielding her students in a closet," Soto's cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told the Daily News. "She put herself between the gunman and her students."

Wiltsie said police told the family of Soto's bravery at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"I'm very proud to report she was a hero," said Wiltsie, who is a police officer in Fairfield, Conn. "I would expect nothing less from Vicki. Instinctively, her training kicked in. She did what she was trained to do, but also what her heart told her to do."

My own heart tells me this is what I need to take from the Sandy Hook massacre. This is what I will remember -- the bravery of a first-grade teacher.

In the days, weeks and months to come, when this horrific episode continues to be discussed, I will always think of Vicki Soto.




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