A local hospital chaplain spent the first 60 years of her life in Newtown, Conn.
Charline Grafton, a chaplain in St. Francis Hospital’s surgical ward, attended Newtown United Methodist Church, a mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, with at least five families of the children who were shot to death a week ago today.
She hasn’t tried to contact them yet.
“These people don’t need one more teddy bear or one more letter,” she said. “What they’ll need is to be remembered a year from now or even six or eight months from now.”
The biggest thing the rest of the nation can do for those families is make whatever changes are necessary to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again, she said.
Grafton remembers Dawn Hochsprung, the principal who died trying to stop Adam Lanza from getting into the school with an assault rifle.
Grafton was an administrator at an elementary school in nearby Danbury when Hochsprung was a student teacher there.
“She had the exact right ingredients that can only be present innately and cannot be learned,” Grafton said.
“Anybody can teach 1-2-3, A-B-C. What a good teacher needs is the ability to inspire children to want to learn, to want to discover, to ask questions. I remember that about her.”
She called several of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary several hours after 20 children and six adults were massacred. She asked them what the first-graders would have been doing that morning.
The students were divided into three groups. One group was in the gym, dancing as elves, prancing as reindeer and doing belly laughs as Santa.
Another group was practicing spelling, writing and reading.
The third group was decorating cookies for the final two nights of Hanukkah and for Christmas.
“Children start losing their front teeth when they’re in the second grade,” Grafton said. “So those children had a full smile that day with no gaps.”
Grafton moved to Charleston after she retired. She described Newtown as a charming village, like out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The schools are good, the parents are involved and residents take care of each other, she said.
But she recalled one dark incident for which Newtown is famous. An airplane pilot murdered his flight attendant wife in Newtown in 1986, cutting up her body with a chainsaw, grinding it up in a wood chipper and scattering the pieces in the river, inspiring the movie “Fargo.”
But nobody expected the massacre of 20 first-graders, along with teachers who tried to protect them. Parents around the world have been wondering how to handle that ever since it happened, looking over their shoulders in public places, wondering what else they might do to protect their own children.
“You can’t take an event that shakes a nation and the world and not transfer it to your own life,” Grafton said.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.