Fact based reporting by Kenneth Jameson Jr.
Research by Amanda Chen, Edited by Rob Roman
A 4-part series by a Sandy Hook Elementary alumnus on the one-year anniversary of the tragedy. An overview of Newtown from the inside, a description of what is now known about what happened on December 14, 2012 (Including a possible motive), an analysis of the different sides of the issues, and what the prognosis is for slowing the rate of mass killings and gun violence in America are all discussed.
Part 1: Overview
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee. . . .
-from Meditation 17 by John Donne
Newtown Connecticut, the home of the Sandy Hook School Elementary School shooting, is a wonderful and magical town in New England. Many nice people proudly call Newtown their hometown and many good people live there today. Here is a nice article on the brighter side of Newtown.
This is not a journalistic exercise. For just a few thousand American citizens, this story is intensely personal. To show why, I will tell you this: In the cafeteria of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on the wall by the exit, was a plaque dedicated to John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States. This bronze plaque includes a profile bust of Kennedy and the inscribed words “Ask not what your Country can do for You, ask what You can do for your Country”.
A plaque such as this will almost certainly be prominently displayed in the rebuilt school.
Countless Cub Scout “pinewood derbies” were held there in the cafeteria and the adjoining hallway. Right at ground zero of the killing zones and right next to the front doors and classrooms was where Cubs built their own small cars out of blocks of balsa wood to see who can come up with the race-winning design. The cars were powered by good old gravity. There were always advanced programs and excellent teachers there, including 3rd graders learning about biology and computers even in the first years of the 1970’s.
The high school mascot used to be the Indians. The Newtown Indians became the Newtown Night Hawks after a misguided campaign of political correctness. The decades long controversy ended in 1996 under High School Principal, Bill Manfredonia. Nearly 20 years earlier, as a high school wrestling coach and teacher, Bill Manfredonia, was rumored to have paralyzed a student and wrestler for life while demonstrating a wrestling hold. This incident was swept under the rug.
“In 1705, English colonists purchased the Town site from the Pohtatuck Indians, a branch of the Pasgussett. It was originally known as Quanneapague. Settled by migrants from Stratford and incorporated in 1711, Newtown residents had many business and trading ties with the English.”.-from Wikipedia
Rumor had it that the Sandy Hook School was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and three teens were buried alive in the early 70’s while playing in a sandpit right at the edge of the school. Only months out of Sandy Hook school, one very pleasant and studious girl stopped showing up at school. The children at Newtown Middle School were told she had died “in an accident”. The 5th graders later found out she was shot to death by her own brother with a shotgun.
One student in 1972 was standing outside the school right where Adam Lanza’s car was parked when he claimed to see the bricks and mortar of the old chimney and wall actually expanding and contracting as if the entire building was breathing in and out. That student became deathly afraid, and never returned to Sandy Hook School again. That student was me. Also in the 70’s, the High School was closed for a day when the prom king and queen were found dead of CO1 poisoning in the back seat of a car. This was swept under the rug.
Newtown’s claim to fame is Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic track champion who graced the front of Wheaties cereal boxes all over America. Bruce attended the school for a few years, where some of his track and field records still stand. People familiar with the TV show “the Kardashians” know that Bruce Jenner, then a motivational speaker, married Kris, the divorced wife of Robert Kardashian,, one of the lawyers from the OJ Simpson murder trial.
A highly reliable eye witness reported that in high school, Bruce Jenner’s favorite cereal was actually “Fruit Loops”. Newtown named their stadium, really a crater shaped pit lined with cement bunker type seating, “Bruce Jenner Stadium” in honor of their hometown Olympic hero. At the 25th anniversary of the dedication, Bruce Jenner was off in California and he wasn’t interested in returning to Newtown or contributing money to his stadium. Bruce refused to return phone calls from the Principal. The high school leadership angrily responded and Bruce Jenner’s name was removed forever from the stadium.
Both Newtown high school and Sandy Hook Elementary School are close to Route 34, which travels along Lake Zoar and the Housatonic River to New haven, home of Yale University. Sandy Hook is one district of Newtown, which used to be the poorer section of Newtown and probably still is. One of the most famous events in Sandy Hook was a gunfight in the streets of Sandy Hook center in the 70’s between two rival motorcycle gangs, the Huns and the Hell’s Angels. The son of one of the Huns, who’s dad kept his prize Harley in the living room cordoned off by thick velvet ropes, is the eye-witness who saw Bruce Jenner in the morning munching on Fruit Loops. This son of a Hun’s father later opened up a gentleman’s club in nearby Danbury.
Danbury was famous in the 1800’s as a manufacturer of hats. Mercury was used in the production of hats and many workers were poisoned and lost their minds. This is the home of and the original meaning of the term the “Mad Hatter”, from Alice in Wonderland. Bordering Newtown is the town of Bethel, where actress Meg Ryan attended High School. Another district in Newtown is called Dodgingtown. This District was so named because when tax collectors from the town of Newtown came to collect, the border residents said they were residents of Bethel. When Bethel tried to collect, the residents told them they lived in Newtown. Dodging taxes became somewhat of a local sport in this district.
Newtown has always been the home of many writers, bankers, college professors and airline pilots. In the center of town are stone churches and white churches and the most picturesque New England town imaginable, with a town Hall and country store, old colonial and a few Victorian homes lined with beautiful trees, crisp hedges and flower gardens.
In earlier decades, summer pastimes included jumping off the silver bridge, when it was actually silver (it’s finally being renovated), and swinging from the locally manufactured firehoses attached to high tree branches into the Housatonic river below. Because the General Store had an old fashion Bryer’s ice cream sign, the town center became the focus of a famous Bryer’s commercial. Kids waterskiing and tubing on Lake Zoar became the focus of a famous Mountain Dew commercial
Sometime in the 70’s between Newtown center and Sandy Hook village, near an old overhead train bridge, an ice cream shop, imaginatively named the “Ice Cream Shop” opened and quickly became very popular. For decades the owners have closed the shop in the wintertime, leaving a sign on the glass doors that simply says “gone fishing”. Decades later, this store is still in existence, looks exactly the same and is still a big hit. From Time to time in the 70’s and 80’s,, a too-tall tractor trailer coming off I-84, would smoke up the tree lined streets of Route 34, through the tiny village of Sandy Hook, up the hill and past the Ice Cream Shop to the narrow and low overhead railroad bridge, and get wedged under the bridge, its top being all but peeled off. The engineering solution would seem to be to dig the street a few feet deeper or to lift the bridge a few feet higher. But in typical Newtown fashion, nothing was ever done about it and so, of course, the same thing is still happening from time to time, even today.
In the center of town are the crossroads of Route 25, leading to Danbury and Bridgeport and Route 34, leading to New Haven and adjoining both Newtown High and indirectly, the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In the center of this crossroads is the iconic and huge flagpole waiving a giant American flag. Near the crossroads is a white colonial meetinghouse topped with the quintessential Newtown icon, the famous golden cock (or rooster). During the Revolutionary War, many residents of Newtown, then a manufacturer of furniture, firehoses, hats, and tea bags, were torries or British loyalists, who supported the British Army. Some of the meetings in that meetinghouse were about how best to help the Redcoats. “Late in the war, French General Rochambeau and his troops encamped there in 1781 during their celebrated march on their way to the siege of Yorktown, Virginia, which ended the Revolution”.
While encamped at Newtown, some French soldiers who were no friends of the American torries, took over the meetinghouse and used the golden cock for target practice. So the golden cock has three or so bullet holes in it which were later patched with silver. This was very good shooting, by the way.
November 19, 1996 is a date known to Newtown residents. On this date, a Danish flight attendant went missing during a severe snowstorm. Later that night, airline pilot Richard Crafts was spotted by a snowplow driver a long way from his home near LakeZoar by the “silver bridge” using a chainsaw and a woodchipper. Small pieces of his wife, Helle Craft’s body were later recovered from the shore and in the lake itself. This was the famous Woodchipper Murder. Helle Crafts was “disappeared” by a woodchipper, but she was either hit with a blunt instrument or murdered with a gun. It’s the easiest way. Richard then hid his wife in a new freezer and transported her to the lake by means of a rental truck. Newtown couldn’t keep this quiet. This event was just too big to sweep under the rug.
One more thing about Newtown. It’s as different now from the Newtown of the 70’s and 80’s as JFK airport is from Idlewild Airport. Idlewild became JFK airport after the assassination 50 years ago in November, 1963. Newtown is no longer a typical New England town. Newtown is fast becoming one of the richest towns in America.
Newtown is located in Fairfield County, one of the wealthiest counties in one of the wealthiest states in one of the richest countries in the world. It is and always was 95% white. The median income is $95,000 per year. The median home price, even in this economy is near $400,000 (the Lanza home is valued at $553,000). There are a large number of homes that are priced at $700,000 and above. Many people who grew up there cannot afford to live there. Fairfield County abuts New York City directly, and as the surrounding towns to the east developed and filled up, Newtown real estate increased in value exponentially.
It is jammed packed with corporate heads (Mr. Lanza is a Vice President of General Electric), stockbrokers, politicians, bankers military contractors and insurance executives. This is somewhat of a red town in a blue state, there are plenty of conservatives and tea party patriots. When the High School changed its name from the Indians, one of the alternatives could have been the Newtown Golden Cocks. Instead, with many professional residents commuting to the giant military contractors Sikorsky Aircraft (United Technologies) in Stratford and General Dynamics nearby, the Night Hawks was found to be a more apt choice.
But the richness of Newtown doesn’t seem to translate into good school facilities or top-notch high school teachers. Any school student from Newtown will notice something when they go to visit other schools in the surrounding towns. The schools and facilities are much nicer. This may be because some of the more vocal people in Newtown are “fiscally conservative”. This means they are cheap. To be fair, many improvements have been made to the high school over the decades. But for some strange reason, the administration at the high school has always been somewhat obtuse and the majority of the teachers there have always been not so good, while teachers in the lower grades are generally excellent.
Earlier this year, the towns people seemed to be against either building a new school on another site or demolishing and rebuilding a new school on the same site. The majority were calling for refurbishing the old Sandy Hook School, but fortunately, common sense prevailed. Where did these vocal people get this insane idea? Probably from the far right media, where they were squawking about how Newtown would be wasting money by demolishing the school.
Here is the news report”: “Some Newtown residents say the school should be demolished and a memorial built on the property in honor of those killed Dec. 14. Others believe the school should be renovated and the areas where the killings occurred removed. That’s what happened at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., after the 1999 mass shooting.”
Yes Columbine was renovated and re-opened, but Columbine was a newer, more modern school. The Sandy Hook School, which originally was an “L” shape, but has been added onto over the years, was built in 1954.
This refurbishing was an option that could never be allowed to happen and just made no sense. Probably out of embarrassment because the whole nation was watching, and with some additional funding of $50 million by the state, the townsfolk finally voted to demolish the school and rebuild on the same site. I believe that was the best solution. The Indians would say “Bad idea, townsfolk. You should have rebuilt on a new site”.
Down route 34 and not far from the Newtown High School and the Sandy Hook school is a large, rambling home right on the route which used to be called the Wheeler house. This was purchased in the late seventies by Starsky and Hutch star, Antonio Fargas, who played”Huggy Bear” a pimp and informant, a sort of friend and wiseguy nemesis of Starsky and Hutch. Antonio taught theater classes at nearby Western Connecticut State College (now University) in Danbury.
His wife happened to be white. Antonio was a very friendly and hospitable man with a great personality and he had endless hysterical stories to tell. He welcomed and invited many Newtowners to come and talk to him and visit him at his home, and for a brief time he was Newtown’s resident celebrity. Antonio’s father was a garbage man in New York City, and his is a true story of the American dream.
Antonio wasn’t living in Newtown long and he abruptly moved out when a large wooden cross was ignited and burned in his front yard. This history was “disappeared” and swept under the rug.
So Newtown has it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some things haven’t changed. By listening to the people at the town meeting they held shortly after the shootings, there are still some truly wonderful people there. And, yes, even some dedicated teachers. It’s not really the ideal New England town portrayed in the Bryer’s commercial. That’s the way reality works. It is and it isn’t. It’s far from the threshold to the gates of hell either. For most past and current residents, it’s as close to heaven on earth as many will get.
The Newtown Nighthawks football team, seen wearing the green and white colors of Sandy Hook Elementary in place of their traditional blue and gold, beat Bethel 22-14 at their first home game, and went on to end their regular 2013 season undefeated with a 12-0 record. That’s typical for the football team, which never gives up, works together as a team, often comes back from seeming defeats, and always strives for a victory.
Of course, everyone knows that on December 14th, 2012, in the halls of Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Connecticut, the normal sounds of learning, scuffling footsteps and laughter, were suddenly broken by the sounds of shattering glass, riveting fear, smoke, screams and gunfire from a high powered AR-15 semi automatic rifle and seven, 30-round high capacity magazines packed with exploding hollow point rounds. One mentally ill resident of this quiet bedroom community woke up that morning in a beautiful home stocked with a large variety of guns and ammo. He made his bed very neatly, and then he grabbed several of the weapons in that home and went on to shake the civilized world with a completely senseless and incomprehensible act of violence.
In the USA, since the Sandy Hook shooting, there have been 19 additional school shootings and 16 mass shootings.
In the USA, since the Sandy Hook shooting, there have been over 10,800 additional gun deaths.
* 1,676 women have been shot to death.
* 523 teens have been shot to death
* 193 children age 12 and under have been shot to death
* Over 7,100 children were hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
* Another school shooting……Now Coming soon to a killing theater near you?
…..for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee.