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Life After the Sandy Hook School Shooting

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Yahoo Parenting on December 12, 2014, and was reprinted today, on the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook School Shooting.

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Sunday marks the two-year anniversary of the December 14th Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, CT that claimed the lives of 20 first graders and six adults. “We only refer to the day as ‘12/14.’ And we don’t speak of that man,” notes writer Sarah Caron, in her recent essay published in the Bangor Daily News in Maine where she works as a Senior Features Editor. Caron’s son, Will, 9, was a second grader at the school — which she described as filled with “joyful educators who greeted children as they piled off the school bus,” amidst the “quietest of small towns.” Will’s classroom was across the hall from where the deranged gunman opened fire, however Caron’s son survived. Her 7-year-old daughter, Paige was a kindergartner at the time — thankfully, she attended the afternoon session.

This past June, a year-and-a-half after the shooting, Caron accepted her “dream job” with the Bangor Daily News and moved her family to Maine to start anew. “I couldn’t turn down the job, but it was also about leaving too,” Caron tells Yahoo Parenting.

“The kids had mixed feelings about moving away from their family and friends, but I convinced them it would be an adventure and different up here.” She meant they wouldn’t have to live in the shadow of an unspeakable tragedy, where 26 stars remain atop the fire station’s roof in memorial — a constant reminder, too painful to confront day in and day out.

But, this past November during a parent-teacher conference, she learned no matter where her family is, it’s something they’ll truly never leave behind. “I wasn’t surprised to see the words “bang, bang, bang,” says Caron, of a personal essay her son wrote in his fourth grade class last month. Her son’s classroom went into lockdown, students crouching down, as “pop-pop-pop” gunfire drew closer.

She tells Yahoo Parenting it’s relieving that Will can channel his experience through writing, trusting his new teacher to keep his work private — and that her 9-year-old is very aware who he can talk to about that day. Caron says he knows that telling his classmates in Maine isn’t appropriate — or fair.

“My son was forced to grow up at 7 — and learn there is evil in this world,” Caron says. “He learned there are people who will hurt you for no reason and that you are here one minute and gone the next. But innocence shouldn’t be lost and childhood should remain magical for as long as possible.”

Paige, who is now 7 and in second grade had a different experience than her big brother. “She remembers the panic and confusion that day in the fire house when we went to look for Will,” says Caron. “We were crammed into two rooms, trying to make our way through the crowd. People were crying, panicking and I had no idea if my son was there … if he was OK,” says Caron. At the time the mother-of-two only knew that the principal had been killed, a woman she said dressed as a book fairy and flitted among classrooms spreading glitter, joy and excitement about literature.

“It felt like an eternity before I saw Will,” said Caron. She tells Yahoo Parenting that her sweet son simply remarked, “You came!” to that she replied: “Of course I came.” That was just the beginning for Caron, who learned later that day — in horror — twenty first graders had been murdered, along with administrators. “I waited until the complete manifesto came out the next morning to tell my son Ms. Soto had been killed shielding her students.” The first-grade teacher was special to Will because the second graders were on rotation to participate in a game with her class — and Will’s turn was next. “When I told him, he innocently said, ‘Now I’ll never get to finish Lavo.’ To this day, Caron isn’t quite sure what the game is about, only that it registers to her son that a beloved teacher is gone.

Will’s nightmares have stopped. Paige found solace in art therapy. “I’m OK. There are highs and lows,” says Caron. On Sunday she’ll take her children to ice skating practice and make the day as happy as possible.

“Will is a survivor. He and his class were blessed that day, and were so brave while the most horrific of things happened just outside their unlocked classroom door. And since then my son has shown tremendous grace in his ability to both come to terms with it and move ahead.”

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