Deciding fate of massacre site can help healing
AURORA — As Newtown, Conn., grieves the deadly mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, victims’ families and residents will eventually have to decide what to do with the building and how to remember the fallen.
Will they decide to demolish the school where authorities say Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself? Or just the parts where he opened fire? Will there be a memorial on school grounds, or in town? Or both?
Whatever they choose, it will give them a measure of control over a situation in which they have had very little, said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
“To be able to have some control and say in that process I think is going to be very important” to the healing process, he said.
Here’s a look at what communities that have faced deadly mass shootings have done:
— After a white supremacist opened fire in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., in August, killing six people and injuring four, temple officials held a purifying ceremony and removed bloodstained carpeting, repaired shattered windows and painted over gunfire-scarred walls.
But they left one reminder of the violence — a dime-size bullet hole in the door jamb leading to the prayer room. The hole is now marked with a small gold plate engraved with “We Are One. 8-5-12,” a memorial to the victims.
“It frames the wound,” Pardeep Kaleka, son of former temple president Satwant Singh Kaleka, who died in the massacre, said recently. “The wound of our community, the wound of our family, the wound of our society.”
— After a gunman killed 12 people at a midnight showing of the Batman movie in Aurora, Colo., officials conducted an online survey and more than 70 percent of the 6,300 people who responded wanted the movie theater to reopen.
“There are dozens of ways a community comes together following any blow, be it from what Aurora experienced in July, Connecticut experienced just days ago, or the physical devastation of Sandy,” Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said in a written statement.
“Having places to meet and be together is one such way,” he said.
A memorial that sprang up near the theater is gone but a new sign offers sympathy to those suffering from the nation’s latest mass shooting —“Newtown, CT We feel your pain.”
— In Norway, extensive remodeling is planned on the small island of Utoya, where 69 people, more than half of them teenagers attending summer camp, were killed by a far-right gunman in 2011.
Utoya’s main building, a cafeteria where 13 of the victims were shot to death, will be torn down and replaced by a cluster of new buildings surrounding a square, creating the feel of a “small village,” project manager Joergen Frydnes said.
The idea is to bring back the positive atmosphere that characterized Utoya before the tragedy, he said. There was no summer camp this year and it’s unclear when the left-wing youth group will be back at Utoya for what used to be its annual highlight.
Frydnes said it will happen, eventually. “It’s a sign that terrorists can take lives, but they will not defeat us,” he said.
— At Virginia Tech, the scene of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, a classroom building where a student gunman killed 30 people in April 2007 is now home to the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention.
The center at the Blacksburg, Va., school was established in 2009. The building also houses space for the engineering department. A dormitory where the two other students were killed has been turned into a residential college. The gunman killed himself.
As at many other scenes of mass shootings, a memorial was created on the campus’ main lawn recreating the 32 stones — one for each person killed — placed there in the hours after tragedy.
— In Pennsylvania, the Amish community quickly decided that removing the schoolhouse where five girls were killed and five others were wounded in October 2006 by a gunman would be the best way to help bring resolution, mainly out of sensitivity to their children.
Ten days after the shooting, heavy machinery moved in before dawn to demolish the West Nickel Mines Amish School, making the site indistinguishable from the surrounding pasture. Dump trucks transported the wreckage to a landfill.
New Hope Amish School, its replacement with added security features, was built a few hundred yards away and opened April 2, 2007 — six months to the day after the massacre.
— After two students went on a deadly rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, students finished the year at another school. Columbine reopened in time for the following school year after extensive repairs.
“The intent of the school district is to put this back as a high school,” Jack Swanzy, lead architect on the refurbishing project, said at the time. “We don’t want to make it a shrine to the tragedy.”
School district officials originally considered remodeling and reopening the second-floor library, where most of the students were killed, but parents objected and asked that it be demolished and replaced.
The district eventually agreed and the old library, which sat above the school cafeteria, was removed and the space converted into an atrium.
A memorial to those killed — 12 students and a teacher — opened years later on a hill above the school. The broad oval sunken into the rolling terrain still attracts people.
On Friday, after the Newtown shooting, Amber Essman, 24, made her first visit. She was in grade school at the time of the shooting and had been hesitant to visit before because of the emotions it would bring up.
She wanted to pay belated respects to those killed at Columbine and provide some comfort to their families. “They need comfort and peace today in addition to the families in Connecticut that have been affected,” she said.