My last morning with Jesse began like so many others; I woke him up with a song and kissed him until he giggled. It was a beautiful, sunny morning but so cold that my car was coated with a layer of frost.
Jesse’s father, Neil, arrived to take Jesse to school. We finalized plans to meet at Jesse’s elementary school the next afternoon.
When I turned to kiss Jesse goodbye, I saw that he’d written a note to me in the frost on the passenger-side window and door—I Love You. He stood there smiling up at me.
When Neil and Jesse got to school, Neil parked the car and walked with Jesse through the front doors and into the main hallway, where they hugged goodbye as usual.
Jesse put his hands on Neil’s shoulders. “I just want you to know it’s going to be OK. I love you and Mom.”
Then Jesse turned and walked away down the hall toward his first-grade classroom.
I’d been at work for about an hour when my colleague Tina sent me an instant message: “Did you hear about a shooting at a school in Newtown?”
The message startled me, but I remained calm. Even if the report were true, what were the odds that of all the schools in Newtown, something like that would happen at the school that Jesse or my older son, J.T., attended? Then my phone rang.
It was my friend and neighbor Diane. “Did you hear that a teacher got shot in the foot at Jesse’s school?” she asked. A second later, every electronic device around me was ringing, beeping, or vibrating, delivering a barrage of phone calls, texts, e-mails, and instant messages from family, friends, and colleagues. Everybody was either asking me what was going on or giving me fragments of information they’d heard. It was too much for my brain to assemble, but it seemed clear that there had been a shooting, and it had definitely happened at Sandy Hook Elementary—Jesse’s school.
I took a deep breath and told myself to stay calm. There’d been a false report about a school shooting in town before; maybe this was another one.
Then Neil called, worried. “Nothing really bad could have happened, Neil. This is Sandy Hook! Jesse is fine,” I said.
Neil was heading out to pick up Jesse at the Sandy Hook firehouse, which had been designated as the official meeting place for parents and students. I decided I would just go, as well, in case Jesse needed consoling.
En route I pulled up to my house, ran inside, grabbed my grandmother’s silver cross necklace, slipped it around my neck, and jumped back behind the wheel.
When I got to the firehouse, I was immediately stopped by an official. “If you haven’t found your child yet, go to the back corner.”
Inside, I scanned the faces for Jesse. When I didn’t see him, I began looking for one of his classmates, but I didn’t see any of them either. I stood in the fire truck bay for a few seconds, watching as relieved moms and dads found their sons and daughters and snatched them up into their arms.
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“I can’t find my son; his name is Jesse,” I said to anyone who looked in the least bit official. Each one told me to wait in the back room.
Neil called, and I asked him to check day care, where someone told me several of the kids had run. I walked toward the school but didn’t make it more than 20 feet up the wooded drive before military personnel in fatigues turned me back.
Neil texted: “He’s not at the day-care center. Now what?” I told him I was going back to the firehouse. By that time, my mother, Maureen, her husband, Bob, and my friend Diane had arrived. When J.T. texted and asked if he could join us, I told him OK. I want the three of us together, I thought. Once we find Jesse, we can all go home, reunited, as a family.
The atmosphere in the firehouse had become increasingly tense. A state trooper moved from one group of parents to the next, trying to calm nerves.
“Some of the children went to hide in bathrooms and closets,” he said. “We are looking in every corner and crevice of the building to find them. Some kids may have even run out of the school and may be hiding in the woods. Our search teams are combing the woods right now.”
The trooper asked me for a description of the clothes Jesse was wearing that day and for a recent picture of him. I gave him the details. Another officer came to get Jesse’s full name to add him to the list of children who were missing.
At that point, all I could do was wait and huddle with my family. J.T. had arrived, and I hugged him as tightly as I could and told him the same words I’d been repeating all day—not to worry, Jesse was fine.
I had hope. At least, part of me did.