PORTSMOUTH — It wasn’t a talk Christina Craft was looking forward to having. Not with her 8-year-old daughter. Not without a script. Not when she was having trouble processing the information herself.
When news broke that a gunman slaughtered 20 young children and six staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, parents around the country struggled to explain the senseless massacre to their children.
Ms. Craft, however, carried the added burden of having a personal connection.
“That’s where I grew up. I lived in Sandy Hook,” she said of the village in Newtown, Conn. “It was shock and disbelief. Newtown is so small — there’s nothing there, really. It’s not a city where you think this might happen. It’s so hard when it’s your home.”
Her parents left Newtown when she was in college in 1996, but she later lived in the neighboring town of Milford. Ms. Craft, along with her husband and three children, moved to Portsmouth in October. Although she never attended Sandy Hook Elementary School — the closest school to her childhood home — she has a close friend whose son survived the shooting.
“Her son was in Victoria Soto’s (first-grade) class. He made it out OK, but he saw some traumatic things that day,” she said. “He ran out when the shooter was in the classroom. He watched his best friend die, he watched his teacher die. Supposedly, the shooter shot at him when he was outside the classroom.”
The 27-year-old Ms. Soto, who was credited with shielding many of her students from the killer, was one of the six staff members murdered that day.
Ms. Craft heard about the news while she was out doing errands with her two sons, Logan, 4, and Finnegan, 2. Her 8-year-old daughter, Caitlin, was in school. When they returned home, Ms. Craft was “glued to the TV and the telephone and the Internet,” and her emotions got the better of her.
Logan asked why she was crying.
“I told him that a bad person hurt some kids in the school where mommy’s friends are. I didn’t know how to broach it with my 8-year-old because I thought she would ask more questions,” said Ms. Craft, adding that Caitlin has played with the son of her Newtown friend, who also has a third-grader at Sandy Hook who was unharmed.
Logan forced his mom’s hand when Caitlin returned home. “As soon as she got off the bus my son said, ‘Mommy, tell Caitlin why you were crying,’” she recalled.
Fortunately, Caitlin handled the news about as well as could be expected. As for her friend’s son, he seems to be doing OK, said Ms. Craft. “He’s got a big family, a big support system,” she said.
Still, she felt she needed to do something to show support to her hometown. Her sister-in-law, Shannon Craft, told her that someone in the Portsmouth High School music department wanted green ribbons for band and chorus members to wear at the Dec. 17 holiday concert. “She was wondering if I could spearhead that,” she said. “So I piled my boys in the car and drove down to Michael’s.”
She bought four spools of ribbon and rushed to make up about 250 ribbons for that evening’s concert, enough for every student musician. “I was hoping they’d be fancier,” said Ms. Craft, who attended the concert. “It was very touching. Even though I’m not where I consider home, it was nice to see some connection to home.”
The school department then took Ms. Craft’s idea and ran with it.
“We’re putting green flags — very close to the Sandy Hook elementary school colors — along with our own flags,” said Lynn Krizic, superintendent of schools in Portsmouth. The flags should be up this week, when students return from the holiday break.
To learn about what families can do to help their kids deal with the tragedy, as well as what schools are doing about security, go here.