Friday turned out to be the darkest day of the year. It was a day to hug your kids, or call a parent or a friend, or do something that for a moment might dispel some of that darkness.
The news got worse with every bulletin. Shots fired in an elementary school in Connecticut. Three dead. No, many dead. Children shot. Children killed. Kindergarteners.
Newtown, Conn., became Everytown, America, on this grim Friday. By mid-afternoon the scale of the horror became clear — 20 children had been murdered, plus six of their protectors.
This appeared Friday night to be a matricide that evolved into mass murder.
Tragedies can’t be weighed and measured easily, though we try to do that with statistics, and chart the number of dead and wounded in our mass shootings.
Just this summer the country dealt with the tragedy in Aurora, Colo., when a madman shot up a midnight movie.
America has become a nation all too familiar with mass murder, to the point where it seems to have become an inextricable element of our society.
But nothing could have prepared the country for what happened Friday. This felt different, a ratcheting up of the evil, because so many of the victims were small children.
On Twitter, people were almost speechless at first, struggling to fill even the 140-character allotment. Because what could you say? Other than “No, no, no”?
The news coverage was sketchy much of the day. The spokesman for the state police used procedural language to describe the securing of the crime scene, the “several fatalities” and the fact that “the shooter is deceased.”
There was no obvious motive, and the shooter was misidentified by news organizations for much of the day. TV crews, desperate for information, interviewed children on camera, which drew protests from people who felt the interviews were invasive.
As Friday wore on, people began to find their voices.
Many spoke about gun violence, and the mechanization of depravity. Or they talked about mental illness and the lack of access to good mental health care.
“We’re sick,” said Patty Hassler, spokeswoman for the Children’s Defense Fund, a children’s advocacy organization. “It just makes you sick to your stomach, and your heart is pierced by every bullet that was shot.”
The president of the organization, Marian Wright Edelman, released a blistering statement:
“What is it going to take to stop the craziness of gun violence in this country? How young do the victims have to be and how many children need to die before we stop the proliferation of guns in our nation? We can’t just talk about it and then do nothing until the next shooting, when we will profess shock again.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown and is the trade association for the firearms industry, issued a very brief statement: “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time.”
Photographs by Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee/ap An officer for the Connecticut State Police helped lead a line of distraught children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday after a mass shooting at the school.×
Andrew Gombert/ap/pool A woman comforts a young girl during a vigil service Friday at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn.×
Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News/AP Emergency personnel, parents and teachers are outside the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. where authorities say a gunman opened fire, leaving 27 people dead, including 20 children Friday.×
President Barack Obama talked about his own young children when he addressed the media Friday about the tragic shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak×
Jessica Hill/AP A frantic woman was waiting to hear about the well-being of her sister, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.×
Kristoffer Tripplaar/MCT/pool President Barack Obama spoke of his own young children when addressing the media about the tragic shooting.×