January 14, 2013

Newtown agonizes over school's fate

The Connecticut town faces a crossroads on what to do with the site of a monumental tragedy.

Dave Collins / The Associated Press

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Parents of Sandy Hook Elementary students are divided on whether their kids should return to the building where a gunman slaughtered 20 first-graders and six adults last month.

click image to enlarge

Thomas and Steven Leuci, a pair of 13- and 9-year-old brothers, pay respects at a memorial to victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month in Newtown, Conn. The town must decide on what to do with the school – one option is to demolish it and rebuild.

2012 File Photo/The Associated Press

NRA PRESIDENT: ASSAULT WEAPONS WILL NOT BE BANNED

WASHINGTON - The president of the National Rifle Association expressed confidence Sunday that Congress will not pass a new ban on assault weapons, a major aim of gun-control proponents after last month's killing of 20 schoolchildren in Connecticut.

"I would say that the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to get assault weapons ban through this Congress," David Keene said on CNN's "State Of The Union."

Keene's comments come two days before Vice President Joe Biden is expected to issue recommendations to President Obama on reducing gun violence.

Biden's focus has been on requiring universal background checks for gun sales and on limiting sales of high-capacity ammunition clips.

But administration officials have indicated that a ban on assault weapons could also be proposed. Obama has endorsed renewing such a ban, which was passed by Congress in 1994 but expired a decade later.

Congress is showing a new willingness to restrict production and sales of certain firearms, with some pro-gun members speaking out for the first time against the spread of assault weapons.

It is far from clear whether there's enough support, particularly among Republicans, to approve a broad ban on such military-style guns.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., responded with a flat out "no" when asked on CBS' "Face the Nation" whether Congress would pass a ban on assault weapons.

On CNN, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said "I think we have the possibility, but it's going to be difficult." Prospects are better for Congress to push through restrictions on high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks, he said.

Keene said new measures on assault weapons and high-volume magazines would not prevent gun violence; that the focus should be on preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., disagreed with Keene's assessment that Congress would not take action on assault weapons.

"No, I think he's wrong," Murphy told CNN. Saying that he believed such a ban would have prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Murphy argued: "Newtown fundamentally changed things. The NRA doesn't get this."

-- Tribune Washington Bureau

Many of them made passionate arguments at an emotional public meeting Sunday.

"I have two children who had everything taken from them," said Audrey Bart, whose children attend the school but weren't injured in the shooting. "The Sandy Hook Elementary School is their school. It is not the world's school. It is not Newtown's school. We cannot pretend it never happened, but I am not prepared to ask my children to run and hide. You can't take away their school."

But fellow Sandy Hook parent Stephanie Carson said she can't imagine ever sending her son back to the building.

"I know there are children who were there who want to go back," Carson said. "But the reality is, I've been to the new school where the kids are now, and we have to be so careful just walking through the halls. They are still so scared."

The meeting at Newtown High School about the future of Sandy Hook drew about 200 people. A second meeting is set for Friday. Town officials also are planning private meetings with the victims' families to get their input.

Some Newtown residents want to see the school demolished and a memorial built on the property in honor of those killed in the Dec. 14 massacre. Others say the school should be renovated and the areas where the killings occurred removed. That's what happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after the 1999 mass shooting.

Opinions were mixed at the Sunday Newtown meeting, but most agreed the Sandy Hook children and teachers should stay together. They've been moved to a school building seven miles away in a neighboring town that's been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Mergim Bajraliu, a senior at Newtown High School, attended Sandy Hook, and his sister is a fourth-grader there. He said the school should stay as it is, and a memorial for the victims should be built there.

"We have our best childhood memories at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and I don't believe that one psychopath -- who I refuse to name -- should get away with taking away any more than he did on Dec 14," he said.

Police say Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother at the home they shared in Newtown before opening fire with a semiautomatic rifle at the school and killing himself as police arrived.

Last week, residents around town expressed similar opinions about the school's future.

"I'm very torn," said Laurie Badick, of Newtown, whose children attended the school several years ago. "Sandy Hook school meant the world to us before this happened. ... I have my memories in my brain and in my heart, so the actual building, I think the victims need to decide what to do with that."

Susan Gibney, who lives in Sandy Hook, said she purposely doesn't drive by the school because it's too disturbing. She has three children in high school, but they didn't attend Sandy Hook Elementary School. She believes the building should be torn down.

"I wouldn't want to have to send my kids back to that school," said Gibney, 50. "I just don't see how the kids could get over what happened there."

Fran Bresson, 63, a retired police officer who attended Sandy Hook Elementary School in the 1950s, wants the school to reopen, but he thinks the hallways and classrooms where staff and students were killed should be demolished. "To tear it down completely would be like saying to evil, 'You've won,'" he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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