Berkeley Carroll and the United States Grapple with Tragedy at Newtown


Caleb Gordon, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Twenty-six people—twenty children—were murdered on Friday, December 14th, and the tragedy resonated throughout our nation. The mass killing unraveled as 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot up the innocent Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shortly after killing his mother, and before committing suicide. It incited debate on countless previously dormant controversies in our school and our nation alike, and the news disseminated rapidly. Speaking personally, I have never seen an outside news story circulate through our school so quickly, and touch our community so deeply. “It was really hard to take in”, admits Upper School Director Ms. Fogarty, and many others shared her sentiment. “Hearing about the tragedy,” dean of students Mr. Moses-Jenkins recalls, “hearing about it as it unfolded–how it kept getting worse with every report–it was very upsetting.  School is a safe place and it’s tragic when that safety is violated, especially when it takes the lives of so many young and otherwise helpless, innocent children.” The pain reverberated throughout the community, and many believed that such a response was not only predictable but intentional as well.

Times reporter Christopher J. Ferguson claims that by targeting schools, Lanza and many previous shooters like him purposefully “lashed out against society in the most vicious way possible, inflicting the most pain that they could. That is the point of targeting a school” (2). Ferguson stresses that most of these shooters bore an obsessive vendetta against certain groups or individuals, and tried to avenge their suffering as brutally as possible. He argues that historically, this obsessive vendetta, repeated highly anti-social behavior and underlying mental illness have always characterized school shooters. Others, like The New Yorker journalist John Cassidy, blame American culture itself. Since the shooting, the entire nation has tried identifying the root of the problem; gun control, mental health care, and American culture itself have been accused, and the debate has inevitably grown to fill our own halls and classrooms. Sophomore Miranda Cornell recalls that, after the tragedy had transpired, the school “was filled with different arguments and rants. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion.” Junior Claudia Freeman holds gun control accountable. “It is the gun that kills people, rather than the crazy person himself,” she explains. Junior Charlie Tomb, on the other hand, “blames the reoccurrence of the event on America—its laws and society”, but admits that, given the specificity of the situation, and the multitude of variables at play, “it’s tough to decide who to blame for the individual act.” Junior Shayna Depersia agrees: “there are multiple things that could have been the cause for what happened in Newtown. I don’t think it was just one thing.” While Shayna admits that “Adam Lanza did have mental issues that weren’t taken care of, and definitely played a part in the tragedy” she feels “the issue of gun control” to be just as pertinent to the situation. In addition to resonating throughout Berkeley Carroll hallways, the shooting has become the core of this week’s breakfast club discussion and BC teachers continue to make connections between the event and their class curriculums. The crisis has been similarly addressed by educational systems, state governments, the National Rifle Association and the president. The entire nation, in fact, gave a moment of silence on December 21st, to mourn and honor the brave victims of the shooting. The Berkeley Carroll community mourned with our country, three times taking a moment of silence. Once during morning meeting on the Tuesday morning after the shooting, then on the 21st with the rest of the nation, and again during our annual candlelighting ceremony before we left for winter break. Silence to commemorate, to mourn, to reflect. However, Newtown’s legacies have not been limited to silence.

Many students are outraged that more preventative measures against future shootings are not being taken: “We can make it more difficult to purchase firearms”, urges junior Claudia Freeman. Various other students, like junior Rebecca Ennis, agree, advocating a “need for stronger legislation”. Yet others, like junior Olivia Cucinotta, feel future crises could be best avoided with “better access to mental healthcare”.

The administration itself has also begun talking prevention: Mr. Vitalo comments that the crisis “has prompted us to review our crisis plans and ask ourselves what else we should be doing to maintain a safe environment”. While “there is such a small chance of this ever happening [at BC]”, Mr. Vitalo admits that “it does make one feel vulnerable”. Mr. Moses-Jenkins expounds that the shooting has triggered BC faculty to “focus our energies on preventing future tragedies and strengthening those communities of which we’re a part, or with which we already have connections”.

However, in addition to stimulating some pragmatic concerns, the shooting has also triggered deep reflections throughout the community: “It makes me realize how very valuable our community is”, Ms. Fogarty expresses. Many also found a glister of benevolence amidst the horror: “I was moved deeply at the accounts of how teachers and staff sacrificed so much to protect the children at the school,” Mr. Moses-Jenkins marvels, “and by all the efforts that the police, fire personnel, EMTs and other first responders took in caring for the Newtown community.” Four teachers sacrificed their lives in order to hinder Lanza and protect the children in their care, and Sophomore Sophie Hayssen was similarly touched by their story: “One of the things that struck me most about the Sandy Hook shooting”, she begins, “was how the teachers gave their lives to protect their students. It really changed my definition of what a teacher is”.

In addition to reviving political and societal debates, and triggering fear, uproar and discussion across the nation, such stories of heroism serve to remind us all of the importance of our community, and the duties of our educators.