Sunday 19 November 2017

'I watched parents park their cars and run towards the school'

Vincent O'Dowd talks to some of the the shocked residents of Newtown, a place with a strong Irish identity

Newtown is a small town of 27,000 people, a sleepy suburban community. An hour-and-a-half from New York City by train, it was settled in by many Irish following the train tracks in the last century. The 1900 Census showed that more than 40 per cent of the population had been Irish-born and today it still has a strong Irish identity.

Residents commute to New York and nearby Hartford. Tiffany Sanduval, 25, who works at Crius Energy as a quality supervisor, was on the train. Dressed in a suit, she rested her head on to the back of the seat in front of her as the train we were on pulled into its destination, and started sobbing.

"My best friend's daughter was killed. I'm going to see her now."

The little girl was aged six. Ms Sanduval said her friend was told her daughter "was unaccounted for when she went to the nearby fire house, where the police had set up a place where families could find out what was happening.

"My children do play dates with her. When I told them what had happened they didn't understand. 'But why?', my little one said. 'Why did they do that?'"

As I entered the town, a blue news van with 'Eyewitness news' emblazoned across its side zoomed by. Police barriers prevented cars from continuing north on Churchill Road, where the massacre took place.

Just a little up on Churchill Road, journalists spoke to a mother and father, Tamara and Shannon Doherty, who own a home and garden decor shop called the Wishing Well.

Their tale was one of relief. Their children attended another school in the area, but knew that they would know some of the victims when more details emerged.

Shannon, who attended the school as a child, stood outside on the pavement. He said that he didn't know what to do. "I have two children, Eammon and Teigan. My son will have lost a friend. I don't know how we're going to tell them, there is no blueprint for this.

"The look on my daughter's face was not good, my son was scared because he will know people. So what will I tell them? I'll probably tell them that they are safe, that the guy who did this is gone. We'll try and get them back into some routine. My biggest fear is how this will affect them."

Retired couple William and Susan Neilson, who live at the point where Churchill Road meets the Glen Road in the centre of Sandy Hook, which is a hamlet of Newtown, can see the school from their bedroom.

Their daughter-in-law Terry works at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Susan, who claims Irish identity (her maiden name was Kane), cried and told how Terry had locked herself in a closet at the school with two other teachers during the shooting. They stayed there for an hour-and-a-half.

The couple has been receiving calls from people all over the country all evening. "People we haven't heard from in years are calling us."

Susan said how she saw parents driving towards the school as news broke that something devastating was happening. "I just watched it all unfold. I watched parents park their cars in the middle of the road, get out and just run towards the school."

It's a very tight-knit community here, according to Shannon, who said that his ancestors had come over from Leitrim during the Famine. The town is now torn apart by an unbelievable act of savagery that has stilled the laughter of children.

Sunday Independent

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