To The Media Covering Newtown
Dear Members of the Media,
By now you’ve probably heard the small wave of outrage that is condemning you for interviewing the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. You already know that furious parents across the country feel that it’s inappropriate to shove a microphone in the face of a traumatized 8-year-old.
But have you ever wondered why?
It’s because WE WILL REMEMBER.
I was 14 when my friend Mike was murdered, at my school. Violence rushed through our campus like a lightning bolt, bringing children to the ground in an unexpected, startling shock. This was a few short years before Columbine. This was before cell phones. Before Twitter. Before we could check on each other through Facebook or pull up CNN on an iPad.
I remember running out of the gymnasium, swooped up in a current of other children, only to be met by another wave of familiar faces, running back towards us. “Mike!” they cried. Faces frozen, cheeks inflamed, out of breath. We could see the ambulances down the street, back doors thrown open, half-hidden by fences and bushes. The children ran. We stumbled, we wandered, we ended up in the hallway by our lockers. Our cheerleading coach, who was never incredibly warm and fuzzy, came barreling towards us. “What are you doing?” she asked. “We’re getting our things, we’re going to call our parents, we need to go to the hospital to be with Mike,” we said. We were fueled by teenage innocence, and we had no idea it would be the last drop of naivete that we were allowed. “You’re not.” she whispered, as she put her hand on my shoulder. “You need to go back to the gym. The school is in lockdown. You can’t go to the hospital.”
I can’t remember if she told us then that Mike had died. I can’t remember how I found my best friend Tori, but I know that I did. I can’t remember how I ended up on the front lawn of the school, surrounded by friends who were crying into their hands, their backpacks strewn across the sidewalk, the swirl of police lights shining down on us like sunshine.
But you know what I do remember?
YOU were there. YOU, with your enormous video cameras. YOU, with your microphones poking into the bubble of grief that grew bigger as we waited for our parents to find us. YOU, with your horrible questions about what had happened, had we known Mike, had we seen anything? No parents there yet, just children. No teachers, just children. And you.
Dec. 15, 2012: Connecticut State Police Lieutenant PAUL VANCE (C) briefs the media regarding the Sandy Hook School shooting. (Image: © Nicolaus Czarnecki/ZUMAPRESS.com)
Some of us screamed at you to leave us alone. Some of us answered your sick questions, because you were the grown-ups, and we were the kids. I don’t even know how you got there so fast, before our parents, before anyone else could swoop us back inside and ask you to leave. But there you were, with your vans and your lights, asking us how it felt to know that another child had been killed. How it felt to be scared. How it felt to wonder about the names of everyone else, to be desperately hoping for more information, while feeling terrified about what the truth would really be.
I remember you. I remember your names. I remember what channel you were from. I remember that you filled the parking lot at Mike’s funeral. You stood in a line outside of the door, devouring the footage of crying football players running away from the service, like rabid hungry wolves. You replayed the video of Mike being loaded into the ambulance, over and over and over again, even when people wrote to you and asked you to stop.
And you were there today, in Newtown. Asking children who can barely spell their names what it felt like to have the trajectory of their life changed in a single morning.
How the fuck do you think it feels?
They will remember you. They will remember feeling violated by you. Their parents will regret that the veil of shock blurred their vision enough to allow you to interview their children.
Our country is struggling with finding the answers we need to keep our babies safe. We are struggling with how we feel about guns, and how we feel about mental health care. Report on that.
But the 14-year-old child in me begs you, begs you, to not ask children to report on what it felt like. What it sounded like. How scary it was.
I can tell you for sure, that they will live that trauma every single day. They will be 34, sitting in the car with their husband outside their little boy’s preschool, crying silently at the news reports. They will be transported immediately back to 14 years old, and how cold the grass felt under their feet. They will feel the breath of their friends on their neck as they followed each other blindly back into the gymnasium. And they will see your face, foreign and imploring, your voice pleading and fake.
This is a story for only the grown-ups to tell, while the children focus on healing. The path out of that school takes years, and it is a private journey that should only be walked with friends.
Thinking of Newtown, and sending prayers for their healing and strength. May their tendrils of grief be woven together with fibers of love and community, compassion and understanding. The little girl in me is with the terrified child in you.