Guns blast their way into our most sacred places: schools, playgrounds, even churches. It’s clear there’s No Safe Haven
A Day at the Playground Turns Tragic
Lloyd Morgan Jr., 4, The Bronx
Lloyd Jr. was a ball of energy. He’d say, “Mommy, read to me” or “Mommy, let’s play a game.” And he loved to sing. The day of the shooting, my best friend Jackie invited me to a basketball tournament at the park on her block. I wasn’t going to go, but I felt bad because I hadn’t taken Lloyd Jr. out to play all summer. The tournament was being held in memory of a young girl who had been killed. It was supposed to bring people together. We were having a great day. He’d switch between playing with his basketball and his new scooter. But after the game, as I said goodbye to friends, I started to hear pops. It was July, and I thought it was firecrackers. I couldn’t believe someone would be shooting. It still amazes me. There were so many people there with their children. It started to sound like I was in Iraq or a war. I screamed my son’s name when I realized what was happening. I had just seen him seconds ago. I caught a glimpse of the bottom of his sneakers-the same ones he’d always leave around the house-in the playground. When I reached him, he was curled up near the swings. The first thing I saw was the hole in his head. I just kept screaming, “This is my son!” I know what the Newtown parents are going through. My son was killed on a playground, of all places. It’s just not right.
-SHIANNE NORMAN, 28, LLOYD’S MOTHER
A Night at the Movies, a Mass Shooting
AJ Boik, 18, Aurora, Colo.
I was going to go with AJ and his girlfriend to the movie in Aurora but instead went to the midnight showing closer to my house in Lakewood. When we got out, my friend texted me to say there was a shooting. My heart immediately dropped. I actually left AJ a message saying, “I just wanted to check if you were okay; it would really suck if you were dead.” It was a joke, like that couldn’t possibly happen, but when I realized it did, it was the worst realization ever. I’m an only child, so AJ and his older brother Will were like brothers to me. They were the people I talked to about struggles in my life. A month before he was killed, I was at a party. It might have been the wrong group of friends to be around; there was drinking involved. I was left alone and beaten up by someone I thought was a friend. The next day AJ was the first person I called. He told me it wasn’t my fault. He made me feel loved, like everything was going to be okay, and I would get through it and be a better person. His death still hits me every day: The world is missing out on a great kid. He is no longer here to make people smile or just joke about things to make a tough situation a little brighter. A lot of good people were taken, and they shouldn’t have been. It disgusts me that these shootings continue. No one should have to worry about going to a movie or going to school or doing something they do on a daily basis and losing their lives. Gun regulations are so loose that we’ve allowed it to happen. But things can change, and people are starting to realize there’s something wrong with our gun laws now.
-AMANDA HOOVER, 19, COUSIN AND BEST FRIEND OF AJ
He Lost Three Friends in a Lunchroom Shooting
Nick Walczak, 18, Chardon, Ohio
I didn’t realize I was hit until the last shot. I felt nothing, except that I couldn’t move my legs. Me, Russell King, Demetrius Hewlin and Danny Parmertor were all pretty much just sitting at the cafeteria table when it happened. The hardest part is not really “Why did it happen to me?” but “Why did it happen to them, my friends?” Because it wasn’t their time. I still have a bullet in my cheek. But it’s not really bothering me, so doctors would rather not remove it, because it’s too close to the arteries. If there’s an infection, it would spread to my whole body real quick.
I’m getting stronger. If I realize I can’t do something and people try to help, I kind of get mad. I don’t want to do it if I can’t do it myself. Once I got my car with the hand controls, I didn’t have to rely on others to take me places. A lot of things I thought I couldn’t do, there’s ways to do it. Sometimes it’s like a big life lesson: Just be happy with what you’ve got. There’s not much fear in me, especially at school every day, because I feel like the souls of my three friends who died are around there helping me not to worry. Really all I did before was hang out and drive around, and I can still do that now. Who knows if I get the use of my legs back? My hopes aren’t superhigh. Even if I don’t, I’m still able to do what I want to do and be on this earth. But I’ll never be able to get my friends back.
A Sunday in Church, an Accidental Shooting
Hannah Kelley, 20, St. Petersburg, Fla.
My sermon had just ended, and everyone was hanging around like we always did after church. I’d been the pastor for nearly 30 years, and it had always been like this. My daughter Hannah was playing Ping-Pong with friends in the recreation area. When I heard the commotion, I didn’t know what it was; my first thought was that maybe there had been a drive-by shooting. There were 40 people standing around; they all seemed frozen. I kept asking what had happened, but no one could answer. I saw Hannah lying on the floor. I cradled her and waited for the ambulance to come, but she never regained consciousness. She was only 20. I didn’t think the bullet could have come from inside; church was supposed to be a safe place for my family. I eventually learned that another member of the church had gone into a closet to show his gun to some of the younger guys, not knowing there was a bullet left in the chamber. When he pulled the trigger, the bullet went through the wall and split into pieces; one of them hit Hannah in the head. I’ve asked God why. Hannah was a good girl. You think, “We don’t deserve this.” But there are no easy answers. We have to take life by faith day by day. My wife, Peggy, and I have had to forgive the man who shot her. It was an avoidable accident; there was no malice. We still love him, and he knows that. I can’t focus on anger. Instead I focus on keeping her memory alive with the Hannah Grace Foundation, which helps at-risk children, something she cared deeply about. During the process of grief, there are no shortcuts. It’s okay to question, doubt and be angry. This sudden tragedy robbed me of my passions, my purpose and my vision; I just didn’t care about much. But I have a wife and a 7-year-old daughter whom I love very much. I want to nurture them and be the husband and father that they deserve. So I’ve had to develop a new purpose and passion: to honor my daughter’s memory and to minister to those left behind. It’s what she would have wanted.
-TIM KELLEY, 54, HANNAH’S FATHER
‘She Was Perfect for Me’
Three months after the Sandy Hook massacre, substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau’s boyfriend and family struggle to move on with their lives
Initially it was Lauren Rousseau’s smile that caught Tony Lusardi III’s attention on a dating website. He sent her a jokey message, she sent a “ha-ha-ha” back, and a month later they had their first date at a wine bar. “We hit it off right off the bat,” says Lusardi, 30, a sales rep for a tech company. “I am a giant, awkward nerd when I first meet people, but at one point I said, ‘Can I kiss you?'” Rousseau, 30, a substitute elementary school teacher, turned red and said, “Yes.” When their lips locked, says Lusardi, “I knew she was perfect for me. I thought, ‘She’s the one.'” About five weeks later, they made it Facebook official: They were “in a relationship.” Young, smitten and feeling they had all the time in the world, 13 months later they were just beginning to hatch plans to move out of their respective parents’ homes. “We were thinking we would move in together, get a dachshund-we wanted to name it Pork Chop-and see what happened.”
What happened was as unimaginable to either of them as it was to most Americans-until, that is, Dec. 14, 2012, when a lone gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School. His first stop was the first-grade classroom where Rousseau was subbing in hopes of getting closer to her lifelong goal of having a class of her own. Usually assigned to work with another teacher, “Lauren was so excited because she had her own classroom that day,” says her mother, Teresa Rousseau, 63. “I was told she was the first one killed in that classroom.” Since that day, says Teresa, “I wake up every day immediately knowing I’m in a very sad, Lauren-less place.”
For Lusardi, “everything completely stopped for a solid two-and-a-half weeks.” Each night, he would cry himself to sleep, then awake the next morning anticipating his daily message from his early-rising girlfriend-only to realize, he says, “I was not going to get any more texts from her, ever.” The day of the massacre, the two messaged back and forth about their plan to see The Hobbit that night (see box, page 64). At 8:59 Lauren sent her last text to him: “Lol.”
Now Lusardi finds some comfort in the photos he took of Lauren at his parents’ home in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y., just six days before her death. He also likes to watch videos he shot of her. “But,” he says, wilting, “there’s only one where she’s laughing. That’s my favorite.” Teresa finds the reminders of Lauren sprinkled throughout her Victorian home bittersweet. “There is a whole room in the basement filled with Lauren’s teaching supplies,” she says. “The attic is filled with her outgrown clothes, recital costumes, stuffed animals, Beanie Babies—things I saved to share with her own children someday.” As a child, Lauren cast some of those dolls as her students. “She always wanted to be a teacher,” says her dad, Gilles Rousseau.
Both boyfriend and mother are grappling with the ongoing outpouring of sympathy. “So many people have been giving heart-wrenching gifts to the families: toys, teddy bears, hand-crafted items,” Teresa says. “Meanwhile, a whole other part of the country is rushing out and buying guns. It just breaks my heart.” Lusardi finds all the attention difficult. “I appreciate the nice things people are doing for me,” he says. “But by doing that, all they do is bring it back up.”
Lusardi wants to start doing fun things again, but he says, “I’ve forgotten how to have a good time.” Just thinking about trying to meet a woman, let alone form a relationship, leaves him exhausted-not when the woman he was hoping to build a life with was taken too soon. “I feel,” he says, “like I was cheated of time with Lauren.”