The Newtown Microscope

by Christopher O'Brien

From time to time, small communities across our state and country experience profound tragedy.

Whether it be the bell factory fire in East Hampton, hurricane damage in Milford, East Haven and Fairfield, murders and domestic disputes in South Windsor, chronic violence in Bridgeport and Hartford schools, or children killed in car accidents in Bristol and inumerous other towns, the wounds run deep for all communities. Scars remain for years and affect the development of those living in the community for a generation.

Five years ago Wolcott lost three of our own teens in a preventable accident on East Street. The accident was caused by a dangerous weapon at the hands of an inexperienced 17 year old driver who had a history of leaving hulking pieces of metal in his wake. After news of the tragedy spread, classes were cancelled, forums held and the town comforted our children. We held them close. We held vigils. Candles and photos lined East Street. Counselors were summoned. The media descended.

As the nation began talking about teen driving, Wolcott kept its focus to keep Thamara Correa, Jessica Apruzzese and Anthony Anthony Apruzzese at the forefront of our hearts and minds. Just as our town grieved, so will Newtown for many years.

When a tragedy occurs, a community grieves internally. Even those who did not know the victims are drawn to them because they are our friends, mentors, and neighbors. It is our responsibility to take care of our own. Externally, the world focuses its discussion on other matters. When the tragedy is great, what occurs in our small whooville is projected on the main stage beyond our control.

As the microscope is turned on to our local case study, many local residents are asked to find a public voice as they simultaneously attempt to comfort each other and tame their emotions. As they turn to their responsibilities and say little,  outsiders supplant their voices into the local affairs. Newtown didn’t even know how many of their residents had died before the media began calling gun control advocates.

Locals suddenly become unsuspecting lottery winners united with long lost friends they never knew they had.

In Wolcott, it took two months before a forum was held on teenage driving. The forum was organized by then – State Representative Corky Mazurek and Bristol’s Rep. Frank Nicastro. It included young friends of the deceased, parents, a representative from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The forum led to the more sensible laws that governing teenage driving today.

No national advocacy organization was included. We had advocates right here.

Thus far, little has been heard from Newtown as to what they believe should occur as a result of the Sandy Hook Shooting. A mere 21 days after the tragedy, they are just beginning to find their voice.

Just before Christmas, the last victim of the Sandy Hook tragedy was buried and the national news media began to leave the wooded community. However, the spotlight under the microscope has not left. State media continue give nightly reports on the most mundane activity in the town. Two weeks after the tragedy, many residents say they have finally begun to regain control over their lives and community.

Last week, the media spotlight became brighter again when Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords met with parents and state officials in Newtown. The “non political”, “private” event culminated with an announcement today that Giffords is launching a gun control lobbying organization.  That is certainly her right, as it is the right for parents to seek advice or form a new organization if they desire. Newtown State Representative Debra Lee Hovey bristled on behalf of other residents at the continued intrusion into local town’s affairs with a Facebook post that read “Gifford, get out of my towns!”

For several days, the Hartford Courant’s editorial board and Colin McEnroe have derided Hovey as some kind of lunatic for expressing the very sentiment on the minds of many in Newtown who have been frustrated by the media hounding their narrow roads.  Reporters descended upon the hamlet from all over the world. Fifty or more news trucks parked in yards, pull-offs and driveways, sometimes without permission. In the true scene of overkill, national broadcasting networks allowed local affiliates to send as many trucks as they liked to the town. CBS had at least four different television stations on scene. NBC, ABC, Fox and others declined to pool resources, allowing battle lines of reporters to descend upon funerals, attempting to glimpse a small casket.

Businesses lost customers. Traffic jams developed. Residents took detours and stayed inside.

In some retaliation, motorcycle enthusiasts and firefighters assembled to provide some semblance of privacy with a human wall at some funerals.

Hovey’s simple cry echoed what many in Newtown want: “Give us some peace. Leave us alone. Let us heal.”

The media forgets that local politicians are residents too. They too are affected by the tragedy – and are tasked by their constituents to be their voice in finding a road forward. Yet, Ms. Hovey has since been viscerally attacked for voicing her town’s frustration. They attack her for taking ownership of her own town when she used the pronoun “my”. How should they like her to refer to the town in which she resides?

Have they asked the state representative what she thinks should be done in response to the tragedy? No.

In fact, to protect herself and her town, she has since apologized and removed her Facebook account from public view.

Instead, the media has supplanted whatever community values may exist in Newtown by their own. They have talked about Sandy Hook as if they have lived their all their life, rather than just the 3 week visit. And dissenting voices will be rolled over.

To the vaster media, we implore you: relax, take a step back.  Ms. Hovey, as well as First Selectwoman Pat Llodra and State Rep. Chris Lyddy are the elected leaders of a town dealing with a sensitive tragedy that has affected all of the twenty-five thousand residents.  These and other elected leaders will find their way over time and at the proper time.

If anyone should issue an apology, it should be that of the Hartford Courant editorial board and others insensitive to the residents in a community finding their way from a cauldron they could never imagine.

If any laws should be immediately enacted, it should be for journalists to be licensed and mandated to attend bereavement and sensitivity training.  Afterall, the pen is mightier than the sword.

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