NEWTOWN, Connecticut—The scene was all too familiar. Stunned families clinging to one another for support after yet another massacre in yet another pleasant, leafy suburban American community.
They came for news at the firehouse near the elementary school, just down the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary school, where a young man had burst into a class and gunned down 26 children and staff.
A couple walked a way, shocked and tearful, too stunned to speak. Others nervously allowed their eight-year-olds to give confused accounts of the killings to the gathering army of television news teams.
“It’s a unique community here. This is an unspeakable horror. There’s no words to describe what happened here,” said 52-year-old energy consultant Chuck Stofko, a father of three and neighbor to the school.
But, while the community may seem unique to its residents and their tragedy unimaginable, the scene that played out Friday has become all to common in the United States. It wasn’t even the first mass shooting of the week.
On Tuesday another “active shooter” killed two in an Arizona shopping mall. In August, a Wisconsin Sikh temple was targeted and six people died. In July, 12 Colorado cinema-goers were gunned down at a Batman premiere.
But school shootings are perhaps a particular horror, and Friday’s slaughter will recall for many the 1999 killings at Columbine High School, Colorado, or the mass shooting in 2007 on the Virginia Tech college campus.
This Friday a young man—reportedly a 20-year-old local— entered the school with at least two handguns and entered a classroom where his own mother was teaching a group of under-tens. He opened fire.
Doubtless Friday’s latest killings will renew calls for action—tighter gun control, increased school security, tougher laws—but in Newtown the parents who descended on the school struggled to explain their feelings.
“It is not the right moment to talk,” said a young man who lived by the school, in his twenties, like the shooter.
Instead, locals began organizing vigils and turning out to help. Bringing food to the police and state troopers, who arrived at the community school with paramilitary-style gear, Kevlar helmets and automatic rifles.
“I got a text message from a co worker. I couldn’t believe it was in Sandy Hook, so near. I’m in shock,” Melisa Latifi, a 23-year-old student and part time waitress at The Villa, a waterfront Sandy Hook restaurant.
“It’s a very close community, everybody knows each other. We bring pasta to the fire workers and police and we will keep on doing it tonight,” she told AFP on the road up to the school, as weeping parents led their children away.
Overhead, the drone of news helicopters almost drowned out the sound of a police spokesman doling out nuggets of information. But nothing he could have said would have explained what happened. Nor why it keeps happening.