Sunday, April 27, 2014

Milford Strong

My daughter Ciara started kindergarten in the Milford schools on August 28th, 2001. A little trepidatious, she'd enjoyed her few hours of St. Ann's preschool every week but was wary about this whole leave-home-all-day thing. My husband Mark was in college and home with our eight children and she liked being his right hand girl  but we said going to school was good and she's smart so she caught on fast to this truth: Teachers are more fun than parents. 

Within a week, she was deeply in love with her kindergarten teacher and hooked on school in a big way. She trusted that she'd be safe leaving home and ran to the bus stop every day.

One week later was 9/11 and that all changed.

We live an hour from New York but I'm not sure that's important. I'm sure kids her age all over the country were just as confused. She made a "nest" of blankets on our bedroom floor and that's the only way she could sleep for more than a year. By far, she was the most strongly affected of all our kids, and I think it was her age. Our other children were older (by at least five years) and could talk through their feelings, or younger (an infant) and immune, but she was at that impressionable age when her world was still expanding. 

A world that rearranged  to include this truth: Dying is possible--at school, at home, at work--and some violence is random. You can do nothing wrong and still be hurt. 

There was no stronger evidence than the shootings at Sandy Hook, another hour from here, during her junior year. And then, the murder in her school on Friday. Everyone knew both Maren and Chris, and no one understands how even an obsessive crush could have led to his killing her. No one. 

These are shattering events, and yet Ciara is okay. Why? Because along with these harsh lessons, she  also learned that when things are scary, teachers are like parents. You can trust them, and they'll take care of you, and help you find your way.  

In grammar school, her kindergarten teacher hugged every kid, every day that year. Maybe that wasn't usual for her, maybe it was, but it helped. They needed it, and Simon Lake's super-principal Joyce Carroll made sure the kids got what they needed, then and always. 

Her second grade teacher sparked Ciara's love of all things Egyptian, which has given her education purpose, as well as set the agenda for most school vacations because she's a ferociously driven girl--in sports, in academics, in helping her community--and this drive has been fed in all the best ways by countless teachers at Simon Lake, West Shore Middle School, and Jonathan Law High School. They've pushed her, and supported her, and challenged her, and frustrated her, and along with her tight group of friends become the "school family" every kid should have. 

On Friday, Law was deluged with media. Her boyfriend Josh jumped out of Ciara's moving car to berate a reporter getting a close-up of kids grieving at the school rock memorial. She pulled over and got out and when she was sure Josh wasn't going to punch the guy went back to the car. But her steering wheel was locked and she was too upset to fix it. Josh was too angry to come back near the reporter. So Ciara went to the principal, Fran Thompson. Of course she did. Because in the midst of the most horrible day of his life, he stopped whatever he was doing to come and unlock her steering wheel. Then he dealt with the reporter. I'm sure he also made sure Ciara was okay before letting her drive off because that's the kind of man he is. 

Remarkable, and typical of the educators and coaches in the Milford schools. 

Friday morning, the most senior teacher at Law tried  to stop the assault on Maren. There weren't many people around before school, mostly kids. I'm sure some froze in place. Some ran. You never know what you'll do until you're in that situation but Miss R jumped in and fought for Maren's life. She cradled Maren and pressed her hands on the girl's wounds to try to staunch the bleeding and save her while a school nurse and others did CPR. 

Chris was brought to the office, and handcuffed.

There really aren't words to express the grief we feel about Maren's death. She was an incredible sweetheart and her loss is unbelievable. Truly. I'm not sure when that part of the shock will fade. 

And I have no idea what could have been done to prevent this, if anything. I'm not in Chris's head. I don't know why he snapped. The school has adults who reach out to kids who are struggling, as I know well from my own kids. The staff react appropriately to threats. The school has a police safety officer, and this occurred in the stairwell nearest the front office.  Milford doesn't use metal detectors but this assault started as a choking, and then he pushed her down the stairs. The school has scissors, and tools, and a dozen entrances. I'm not sure metal detectors would have helped if Chris was determined and I don't think this was about school safety. He could have stalked her anywhere. 

But since it did happen at school, as a parent, what more could you ask of your child's teachers? In a random and devastating outbreak of violence, the staff at Law treated Maren, and frankly Chris, like family. 

So to the staff at Jonathan Law, thank you. 

I trust you with my children, and appreciate all the good you've done. I think you'll find ways large and small to help the kids through this tragedy. You'll hug them and let them lean on you as much as they need.

Just like I will at home. 

Love, Lisa


  1. Lisa - as always, your words speak my thoughts and feelings. Thank you. Love Beverly

  2. Such a great blog post. This really sums up the Milford mentality and sheds light onto the real problem-- there was nothing that could have been done to stop this. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Wiley Cameron O'ConnorApril 27, 2014 at 3:29 PM

    Lisa, what a remarkable woman you have become. I remember you as being so thoughtful and kind in high school - and now to have raised eight children, children who have witnessed such a different world than we did, you have shown your beauty and strength in this writing. Godspeed to you and your family as you, and so many others, find their way back to light. You have found words that so many of us just could not express. Thank you.

  4. It's a lovely letter however, I don't think anyone should use the killer's name. I'm tired of people becoming household names when they do something horrendous. Maren is the one who should be remembered. Only Maren.

  5. This is a beautiful response, thank you for sharing it. I especially appreciate the compassion that you exhibit towards everyone involved. There is nothing to be gained by breeding hostility in a community, and I thought your post was respectful of that.

  6. Thank you for making everyone real and full of worth.

  7. Beautiful letter and thanks for sharing. This is my first time reading the murderer's name which hasn't been released since he is a minor.

  8. Amazing post!!! So sorry for the tragedy that occurred at your daughter's school!! Sending hugs from Southington, CT. :)

  9. You've always had a remarkable daughter in Ciara. I was her teacher for only a short time many years ago, but she left an impact on me, and lots of good memories of her. It breaks my heart that any students, and especially ones I once knew had to go throughsuch a thing.

  10. Brought me to so much of this does....I appreciate the strength of people such as yourself,Lisa and of those directly involved...this strength is what this world is really about

  11. The sad thing is I doubt he snapped, I suspect he was broken to begin with and his life wandered into a place it had no foundation.
    If born that way or worn to dust I have know way of knowing.

  12. Thank you for being one of the few that treats this young man as the human being that he is. What he did was horrible, and hurtful, but he is still a human being deserving of compassion and understanding. And thanks to the teachers and staff for being there for everyone who needs them - Maren, and Chris, and all the students.

  13. I'm weeping as I write this ~~~ you are very talented and compassionate. You have expressed what most of us feel ~~~ sorrow, bewildered and unsure. My granddaughter is the same age as your daughter, she too was in kindergarten when 9/11 struck, she too is a senior at a Milford High School(LH) and knows several people who know and love Maren. She was devastated at this news. I only hope I can help her through yet another tragic event in her young life. Once again than you.

  14. Lisa, you write as beautifully as you did in Honors English years ago. I enjoyed your blog and appreciated your wisdom.
    Law teachers, I am sure, are happy to continue to have Creane children! Mary Ellen Minichiello

  15. my kids attended that school great memories, and I know how much pressure these kids go through in that age. I am deeply feeling sorry for both of the kids and their families. Lisa you have done a great job by expressing your feelings about the whole situation, and it is true that teachers are like the students parents ,I think even more since they spend more of their time with them.

  16. Thank you for a beautiful tribute to a school system helping students and families cope with difficult times - repeatedly. My deepest sympathies to all of you.