Skip to main content

Mourners pay their respect to the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting at a make-shift memorial created outside Saint Rose of Lima church in Newtown, Conneticut Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Late Sunday morning, Logan Dryer was sprawled on his living room carpet, still in his fuzzy one-piece pajamas. He is five-and-a-half years old and his world was just turned upside down.

His mother can't stop weeping. He is perplexed by the people with cameras swarming the park where he goes swimming. And the President – whom Logan admires – is coming to town. Why? he asks his mother. Why is everyone here?

What his mother doesn't tell him is that he is a survivor. He should have been at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning but a lingering illness kept him at home.

Now his family is raw with grief and guilt and worry, struggling with another legacy of the killings across this community – the knowledge that their children are alive when so many others from their school aren't. And they're searching for what to say and how to help their kids handle the aftermath.

A bad person came to his school and hurt a lot of people, Logan's parents have told him. Then the police came and took care of the bad guys, they said.

Here is what his parents believe he does not yet know: that the girl he called "Silly Caroline," the six-year old with a giant smile who acted as a protective presence on his school bus, is dead.

At the Dryer home, Logan's mother Karen sat at the kitchen table and wrestled with layers of fear and guilt – her son could have been killed and the parents were close to being there themselves. She and her husband Joe were due to talk with the principal and school psychologist on Monday about a way to help Logan with some of the anxiety he felt about starting kindergarten.

Both school officials – Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, and Mary Sherlach, the psychologist – are dead. Ms. Dryer can't stop thinking about what would have happened if the attack had occurred three days later. Would we have been killed? Would we have been able to stop him? And, the question that brings fresh tears: what if we could have saved the children?

Just across the street, there is another family grappling with the same unknowns: they have a six-year-old daughter who was home from school with the flu on Friday. One of her closest friends – the one with whom she took gymnastics and art classes – was Caroline Previdi, who was killed in the shooting.

As Ms. Dryer talked, twisting and pulling the sleeves of her white pullover, Logan dashed in from the living room and jumped on Eli, the family's golden retriever. The night before, he asked his mother if he was going to have nightmares.

Around town, resources are being mobilized for parents to help their children cope – grief counsellors and psychologists, therapy dogs and kids' yoga. But for Ms. Dryer, what has meant the most so far was an e-mail from her son's kindergarten teacher, Sue Perry.

Ms. Dryer picked up her phone and read aloud from the note: "I will do everything I can when we return to class to make sure that your children are surrounded by love" – Ms. Dryer stopped, overcome, unable to continue – "and can deal with the aftermath of this terrible day in a way that is appropriate for them."

Her 15-year old daughter, Chiara Tersak, padded into the kitchen in sweatpants and purple slippers. "I'm still in shock," she said, adding that she was trying to keep Logan's mind off what was happening with their usual activities: wrestling, tickles, computer games. "I'm just so happy Logan was home from school. Home and safe."

All parents whose children survived the shootings are operating in unknown territory. Ben Herbstman, a father of two children at the school, said he was not pushing his kids to talk about what happened, but urged them to let their feelings out. "We're trying to follow their lead," he said.

At the Herbstman home, Devin and Aidan, 9 and 6, wanted to go ahead with a garage sale already planned for Saturday. They donated the proceeds to a fund for the victims' families.

Their frantic parents weren't sure how much Aidan, a first grader, had witnessed on Friday. Leaving the school, she said police had told kids to close their eyes but she didn't. Then she saw someone in a vest bleeding on the ground.

Asked how she was doing at the garage sale, Aidan said, "I feel happy and generous and a little bit sad," the words rushing out in a chirpy six-year-old flow.

The principal of her school was shot through a door and a friend might have been killed, she said quickly, not fully grasping the import of what she was saying.

Her father put his hand on her shoulder, reminding her that there were many stories going around, none of them certain.

A day later, her mother Pamela said she planned to take her daughter to see a counsellor, since she was starting to react angrily to things.

For the children of Newtown and their families, there is no return to the way things were before. "They're going to go back to school and 20 of their classmates are not there," said Mr. Herbstman. "It's part of their lives now."