BOE President On School Shootings: 'My God, It's Unfathomable'

Riverhead clergy and moms, school administrators and lawmakers react to Friday's horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.

The distance from Riverhead to Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 27 people, including 20 children on Friday, is approximately 130 miles -- but emotionally, the small community is only a heartbeat away.

According to the Huffington Post, and opened fire, killing 20 small children, six adults, including himself, and one adult victim at a "secondary scene" in Connecticut.  As reported by Newtown Patch, Lanza's mother was killed.

After learning of Friday's unthinkable tragedy, Riverhead residents were left shaken and searching for answers.

"My God, it's unfathomable," said Ann Cotten-DeGrasse, chair of the Riverhead Central School District's board of education. "I can't even imagine. My heart goes out to those parents."

Asked about how security measures the Riverhead school district has in place to ensure tragedy doesn't strike close to home, Cotten De-Grasse said, "You can never plan for anything like this -- never, ever."

Nonetheless, Cotten De-Grasse said the distict has been "very aware of bringing in security" to the district, and making sure every visitor signs in and shows a driver's license.

Cotten De-Grasse questioned how the gunman was allowed to enter Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The Riverhead school district, she said, has exercised lockdowns to train staff and students on how to act if "something is amiss." During the drills, she said, everyone has to stay in their classroom; teachers are trained in procedures such as pulling the blinds and locking the doors.

The tragedy, in a town even smaller than Riverhead, has sent shock waves locally, DeGrasse said. "It makes me feel that we need to examine every little thing that we're doing and see if there are additional security measures we can take to ensure this kind of thing won't happen in Riverhead."

Dawn Betke, a Riverhead resident whose daughter is enrolled in the district after years of being home schooled, said Friday was filled with emotion as she thought of her daughter, and one day, her three-and-a-half year old son, being in school during such a terrifying ordeal.

"I homeschooled for various reasons," Betke said. "Today, I'm seeing tons of people on Facebook, particularly, saying they are talking about pulling their kids out of school and homeschooling. Not just here on Long Island but all over, and while I do think some of them don't really mean it,  I do understand that feeling, the sense of urgency, considering this horrible tragedy and the others that have come before it."

But Betke said homeschooling isn't the solution. "I think the answer, or one of them, is demanding more gun control in our country. If you pull your kids out of school because of this, that's fine. But utimately you can't let your fears and emotions dictate your choices."

Residents should contact elected officials to advocate for change, Betke said.

As a mother, Betke said Newtown's tragedy chilled. "They were all babies," she said. "I worry, but I try not to dwell on it and push my fears onto my daughter. All I can do is tell her every day how much I love her, and hold her tight when she's home."

When faced with the unspeakable, many find their deep and abiding faith shaken to the core. Reverend Charles Coverdale, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Riverhead, said often in tragic times, individuals on the other side of tragedy only try to respond to the unexplainable.

"In the midst of sorrow and grief, one has to look through that veil and try to grab onto the future, and to hope, through that travail."

But Friday's tragedy leaves parishioners asking why, he said. "When children are killed, the feeling of hurt is deeper -- these young ones had not had an opportunity to live their lives and to blossom into the fullness of what God wanted them to become."

In the face of the inexplicable, Coverdale said, "Our job is to hold on to a hope. The season of Christmas is the season of hope -- hope for the young souls that have left us, that their brief memories remain with us, so that we can share the joy of what these young people left us with."

Others feel the tragedy has sparked the urgent need for change. In a statement after the tragedy, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was "shocked and saddened" at the "senseless and horrific act of violence.

"We as a society must unify and once and for all crack down on the guns that have cost the lives of far too many innocent Americans," Cuomo said. "Let this terrible tragedy finally be the wake-up call for aggressive action and I pledge my full support in that effort."

Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, when reached Friday night, was sobbing. "I am weeping for those other mothers who lost their five-year-old babies," she said.

Giglio, the mother of three young children, and who also has three older stepchildren, had to take a moment before continuing. "I can't imagine if anyone told me this had happened to my child -- I don't know what I would do."

Her voice breaking, Giglio added, "I don't know what to say -- other than something has to be done about it."

susan myers December 15, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Perhaps instead of Mr and Mrs Obama worrying about what some kid is eating during the course of a day they should be trying to put a stop to the violent movies, video games and music that kids listen and see every day. That won't happen though because they're so indebted to the media outlets for getting them where they are today that these situations will become the new norm.
Dennis December 15, 2012 at 01:00 PM
With the sound of your message you sound like one of "them" that watch "thoses" movies , play those "games".....
John Pine December 16, 2012 at 04:23 AM
My prayers and sympathy go to Newtown and those who have suffered greatly in this savage crime. Many are already blaming guns for this horrific event, but it is people, not guns, that are the problem. These mass shootings seem to be occuring more and more and I believe that the economy and cutbacks to programs for the mentally ill are contributing factors. They've already reported the gunman had mental illness, yet he wasn't getting treated for it, and he never should've been able to access the guns in the first place. We keep saying that we can never allow this to happen again, and yet it keeps happening. And we keep missing the point, its not guns, its individuals who are a danger to themselves and others, that are on the streets. If anything if someone in that school was armed, the shooter could've been stopped sooner before he took so many innocent lives.
anewidea December 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
I agree. My heart also goes out in sympathy to the families who so impacted by this horrifc event. More needs to be done by the communities to educate its citizens, develop more safety procedures in the schools and more regulations need to be implemented to ensure the mentally ill are not granted weapons.


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