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.