Trying to Report on the Sandy Hook Shooting When No One Has Anything to Say
What do you say about a dead six-year-old?
I went to Newtown, Connecticut on Monday with that question foremost in my mind. Almost every resident I spoke to there reported some kind of connection with the massacre. Caitlyn Hydeck, who sat next to me in a restaurant, said Olivia Engel and Charlotte Bacon, both six, had been students in the local theater program where she works as a dance instructor. “They were just happy little girls,” Hydeck recalled, at a loss to offer any further description. And really, what else could she say? I felt bad for even asking. Olivia was so tiny, andadorable.
When I arrived, TV crews had packed the town center, recording segments with the Honan Funeral Home in the background. One cameraperson wept. Inside, a viewing for Jack Pinto, also six, was underway. Men surrounded his small casket, wailing in grief; as I approached, I realized it was open. I hadn’t been ready for the sight of Jack’s lifeless face, which is now seared in my mind, presumably for life. On the radio that morning, I’d heard he liked swimming and the New York Giants—a woefully inadequate obituary, it would seem. But what more is there to say?
When Barack Obama read aloud the victims’ names on Sunday night at Newtown High School, his utterance of “Olivia” unexpectedly did me in. I worked as a camp counselor for a summer, and there were so many little girls named Olivia. If one had been killed, I wouldn’t have known what to say either, other than that they were happy little girls. As Obama read the names, I was struck by how distinctly American they sounded. This somehow compounded the sorrow: Catherine Hubbard, James Mattioli, Madeline Hsu, Noah Pozner, Ana Marquez-Greene…
At the restaurant, I asked Caitlyn if she had considered the fact that her hometown will henceforth be associated with mass murder of children, in the same way that Littleton, Colorado, is associated with Columbine. She said she’d thought about it some, but didn’t really know what to say. “We’re definitely going to be known for this forever,” she told me, trailing off.