Some cried. A few, too stunned for words, shook their heads and turned away. Many said they felt numb with grief. And one Southtowns mother of two described herself as so saddened that she was thinking of home-schooling.
All this emotion – and much more – poured out of parents across the Buffalo area on Friday, as they learned the details of the mass shooting of 20 small children in an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
And then, they faced the most difficult of decisions: Whether to tell their own kids about what had happened.
“Kids have good imaginations. They can imagine this happening to them,” said Brendan Dillemuth, a father in Evans, who said he and his wife were still deciding whether to tell their 9-year-old daughter about the day’s events.
Those who seemed to be most devastated by news of the shooting had children in elementary school – and of the same ages as the victims in Connecticut.
These moms and dads couldn’t help thinking, as they hugged their children at school bus stops and playgrounds, about what they would do if they were in the place of the New England parents who, without warning, found a peaceful pre-Christmas weekday rocked by tragedy.
“What about those parents, who sent their kids to school, not knowing they would never see them again?” asked Joy Constantino, a Derby mom of two, wiping away a tear.
“My little girl is brilliant. She watches the news,” Constantino said, of her 9-year-old daughter, whom she said she is now considering schooling at home. “I’d rather tell her. I don’t want her to hear – from somebody else.”
Here are scenes from around the region, about the emotional toll such a heartbreaking national tragedy is having in our own backyard.
In Amherst, some parents took advantage of the bright December day to walk their children home from school. Among them was Scynette Cook, who said she had been watching news coverage of the shooting before picking up her 5-year-old son.
“I started to cry,” she said.
Cook didn’t plan on telling her son what had happened. “ I don’t want to scare him,” she said.
Beth Baumgartner walked to the school with dog Daisy to pick up her daughter. The shootings “make me sick,” she said.
If her children bring up the subject of the shootings, Baumgartner said, she won’t dodge the issue. “If they bring it up, I will talk to them about it,” she said. “I don’t hide the realities of the world from them.”
Outside Highland Elementary School in Derby, most parents said they would talk to their kids about the shooting.
One father, Dillemuth, said the world kids today live in – a highly connected one – means that parents have little choice about what to do when it comes to sharing news like this. So while he and his wife might not want to tell their fourth-grader about the shootings, they can’t keep the news from her, either.
“Regardless [of what we do], one parent is going to say something to their kid this weekend, and when they come back on Monday, everybody will know,” he said.
Dillemuth said he and his wife moved to the Southtowns from the Northtowns, to give their daughter an idyllic upbringing.
Now, he realizes, that seems impossible. No place seems safe.
“My wife and I moved our daughter out here because it’s like this,” he said, gesturing at the woods and open skies around him. “Quiet. Peaceful.”
“It scares the hell out of you.”
In Orchard Park, parents who flocked to Eggert Elementary for a concert grappled with the aftermath of tragedy.
“You’re not safe anywhere, I guess,” said Sarah Malburg, the mother of a 2-year-old. “It’s gotten kind of sad. You just can’t [even] go to school.” Malburg said she “cried my eyes out” when she saw the news.
“You just send your child to school and you think they’re safe,” said Judith Toomey, who watched her granddaughter on the playground of Allendale Elementary in West Seneca. “It’s very hard for children of that age to talk about something like that.”
“They shouldn’t have to think about something like that,” she added, holding back tears.
In the face of such shocking news, school superintendents found themselves reacting like professionals – but also parents.
Robert Christmann, interim superintendent in Grand Island, was trying to learn the details of the shooting, just like many others.
“This event today will have as great an impact on public schools as Columbine did,” Christmann said, “because of the magnitude of it and the age of the students.”
Hamburg Superintendent Steven Achramovitch told his staff to make sure doors were secure and asked them to be prepared to answer questions from parents. “I’m sure this will raise some things that we haven’t thought about before,” he said.
Paul Connelly, superintendent of the Springville schools, didn’t order a lockdown, but talked to faculty and staff.
In Cheektowaga Central, schools were closed Friday, but officials were bracing for concerns on Monday. “I think the biggest question, and most challenging question, kids will ask is: ‘Can this happen to me?’ ” said Superintendent Dennis Kane.
In Niagara County, parents who waited for students at Ohio Elementary in North Tonawanda were also concerned. Jamie Derrick said she nearly came early to pick up her three children.
“I had this urge to just come here and get them out of school and hold them and tell them that I love them,” she said.
Instead she waited and arrived just a few minutes ahead of the regular dismissal time.
To show up any sooner, she realized, would have been too alarming for her kids. As she sat in her car, she wondered how she would explain this tragedy to them when they asked.
“I don’t know what to do, honestly,” she said. “I don’t want them to go to school and be scared. It’s something that I need to think hard about.”
In Buffalo, parents dashed into Bennett Park Montessori to do what they had wanted to so badly from the moment they heard the news: hug their children.
“The first thing I wanted to do when I heard about it was come here and pick him up,” Carlo Maggiolo said of his son, 6.
Many parents were still trying to figure out what to tell their children.
“As soon as he finds out, we’ll have a talk,” Maggiolo said. “We’re planning on talking to him about how to stay safe.”
The news stirred protective instincts for many parents. Sidney Yates’ daughter is 3 years old, but he planned to remind her of safety lessons he’s already tried to drill into her. “I’m going to talk to her in the car on the way home,” Yates said.
Yates said he’s vigilant when he picks his daughter up, scanning the faces of bus drivers, checking for cars he’s never seen. “My eyes are always open,” he said.
News Staff Reporters Jay Rey, Charlie Specht, Harold McNeil, Janice L. Habuda, Michelle Kearns, Maki Becker and Mary B. Pasciak contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org