SAN ANTONIO, Texas
I remember getting that first email last December from Mike Leary, my editor here. Hearst, my newspaper's parent company, also owns a chain of papers in Connecticut and the staffs there had been working nonstop covering the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which happened one year ago Saturday.
Mike's email said that Hearst had put out a call for volunteers to go to Connecticut to help out. I remember wavering for several long moments before sending an email offering my services. I hesitated because, in more than 30 years as a journalist, I'd never covered this big of an international news story. I remember feeling a surge of adrenaline when I was told I'd been selected to go to Connecticut.
I remember walking into the offices of the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport and the feeling of controlled chaos that is a newsroom during a big story. In one room, a white board was covered with "follow-up" story ideas. One that I'd eventually work on was listed, simply, as "Guns in Connecticut."
I remember driving to Danbury to cover the funeral of slain teacher Lauren Rousseau and standing in the cold, bright morning outside the First Congregational Church waiting for the service to begin. The large crowd was somber and quiet, collecting in small huddles of family, co-workers and friends. I remember sharing breakfast early each morning with others who'd volunteered from various Hearst offices and returning to my hotel each night in the bitter cold and the early dark.
I remember driving from Bridgeport to Newtown every day and seeing the roadside memorials made up of angels or hearts or Christmas trees. Always there were 26 of each, one for every victim. I remember the other makeshift memorials -- mountains of flowers and signs and stuffed animals and photos and candles and balloons -- lining Main Street leading to the tall flagpole that stands in the middle of the road at the top of the hill at the center of town.
I remember going to the town library to get the name of a man organizing a group to restrict gun sales and seeing signs reading "No Media." I went in anyway and the librarian was exceedingly polite and helpful and was able to get me a contact number. I remember interviewing the man and his daughter. He asked if I'd noticed a house with a police car in the driveway on my way in. I had. He explained that a member of the local police had been assigned to the home of every one of the shooting victims. One of the children killed had lived in that house.
I remember going to the headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is based in Newtown, to get a comment for my Guns in Connecticut story. The door was locked so I knocked. As I waited, a private security guard asked who I was and told me I had to leave. As I walked to my car, I called the foundation offices and asked the woman who answered if there was someone I could speak to. As we were talking, the security guard rapped on my car window and shouted that I had to leave. I heatedly told him I was talking to someone inside the building. I didn't get an interview.
I remember being asked politely and not-so-politely to vacate the premises of a number of gun clubs throughout southwestern Connecticut. I remember talking with a man who'd once served as Newtown's first selectman, the equivalent of mayor, and hearing the sadness in his voice at what had happened in his town. And I remember meeting his son, and hearing the anger in his voice at what had happened to his town.
I remember, as I worked, wondering why I wasn't as affected by the shooting as I'd expected. And how I was able to report, write and edit as I have for more than 30 years. But then I remember how, after coming home, I spent much of Christmas Day thinking about the families of those unimaginably murdered at Sandy Hook and wondering how they could possibly survive the coming days, weeks, months and years.
It was, I now know, an experience I'll never forget.
Richard A. Marini writes for the San Antonio Express-News