- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2012

Friday’s mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school has once again left public officials and educators bewildered and saddened, struggling for answers and forced to relive the horrific memories of violence from years past.

Educators and political leaders must once again confront the cold reality that school buildings, meant to the safest environment for American children, too often become the targets of killers.

“We’ll never be able to prevent every senseless act of violence, but our children, educators and school employees go to school believing it is a safe sanctuary. We’ve been through this too many times,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation Teachers, the labor union that represents the teachers at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Going a few steps further than President Obama, who said Friday’s events must lead to “meaningful action, regardless of the politics” to prevent such violence, Ms. Weingarten turned the spotlight directly on U.S. gun laws.

“Everything we can do, we must do, including a renewed focus on gun control and preventing gun violence,” she said.

The ongoing debate over gun control is sure to follow the Newtown tragedy. Most political leaders, however, avoided the issue in the hours following the shooting.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the leader of a state still recovering from its own unspeakable tragedy, expressed condolences for the more than two dozen victims, including 20 young children.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those impacted by the events transpiring today, and to the teachers, emergency responders, and all others touched by this tragedy. Unfortunately, Virginia has our own painful memories of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007. Those memories will never fade, and we continue to grieve for all those lost on that April day,” Mr. McDonnell said in a statement. “We are all too aware of the impact that events like this can have on a community.”

“Our collective heart breaks over the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School today. … Places of learning must serve as safe havens for every child across our country, and violence must not be tolerated in our schools,” said Jeri Powell, Connecticut state director of the education advocacy group StudentsFirst, founded by former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee.

Friday’s tragedy in Newtown is the latest in a string of school shootings over the years, a worldwide epidemic that law enforcement, government leaders and the education community continue to struggle to explain and prevent.

Just this year, 17-year-old T.J Lane killed three students and wounded two others at Chadron High School in northeastern Ohio in February. Two months later, 43-year-old One L. Goh shot and killed seven people — six students and an employee — at Oikos University in Oakland, Calif.

The Connecticut shooting now joins the Virginia Tech massacre and the 1999 Columbine High School shooting as among the deadliest events in U.S. history on a college or K-12 campus. It also comes on the heels of a fatal shooting at an Oregon shopping mall earlier this week, four months after six people were murdered at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., five months after a gunman shot and killed 12 people at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, and other major tragedies in the U.S. in recent years.

“We have been through this too many times,” a visibly shaken Mr. Obama said at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

While those earlier incidents undoubtedly were terrible, Friday’s shooting has struck a new nerve across the nation. The sheer horror of the death of 20 young elementary school students has left many speechless.

“School shootings are always incomprehensible and horrific tragedies. But words fail to describe today’s heartbreaking and savage attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As the father of two children in elementary school, I can barely imagine the anguish and losses suffered today by the Newtown community,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Our hearts and prayers go out to every parent, child, teacher, staff member, and administrator at Sandy Hook and the surrounding community.”

Members of Congress and other leaders in the education community have also expressed their condolences for the victims.

“I am horrified and deeply saddened to learn of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. My prayers are with the victims, their fellow students and families, and the community of Newtown, Connecticut,” said House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican.

National Education Association President Dennis van Roekel promised his labor union will be available to help in any way possible.

“We join the Newtown community and our entire nation in mourning the deaths of innocent children and educators due to violence. As members of the education community, we extend our deepest sympathies to members of the [Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers] who have lost friends and colleagues. We are deeply concerned for everyone in the Newtown community,” he said in a statement.

Several groups have begun to assist in the long, difficult healing process the people of Newtown must go through. The National Parent Teacher Association is offering help, including resources for students, families, teachers and others in dealing with the horror of Friday’s events.

“A traumatic event like that of this morning affects the entire community, especially the families and friends of the victims. This can be an emotional time, and it’s important for people affected by this tragedy to connect with and support each other,” said organization President Betsy Landers.

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