It is difficult to convey in words the pain and suffering surrounding the horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. It is excruciating to contemplate the grief that has descended on the families of those who have lost a cherished child or loved one. Just this month, I had one of my proudest and happiest moments as a parent—celebrating the wedding of my son Lee, Jr. Such a moment is one of the joyful experiences that have been denied the families whose children have been taken from them so early in their lives.
Several devoted public servants literally gave their lives to protect the children in their care. The heroism they displayed will never be forgotten: The principal and school psychologist who were killed trying to stop the gunman...The teacher who hid her students in a closet and told the killer they were in the gym before being shot by him...The teacher who tried to shield her students from the gunman with her own body.
And let us not forget the first responders. All 44 members of the Newtown Police Department are members of AFSCME Local 3153, Council 15. They are demonstrating remarkable professionalism and dedication as public servants as they respond to and investigate this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Newtown's residents and town employees, including AFSCME Council 4 police dispatchers (Local 1303-136); public works employees (Local 1303-200) and Board of Education nurses (Local 1303-215).
All the survivors of Sandy Hook Elementary have had their innocence and sense of safety taken away from them. The tragedy has victimized the entire community and our entire nation has been moved by this event. As President Obama said in his remarks at the memorial service last night, "Surely we can do better than this.”
In the aftermath of this tragedy, AFSCME members will be helping as our nation comes to terms with this tragedy and seeks to move forward. We must come together to remind ourselves of our shared values—and to do all we can to protect each other from such violence.
On the most personal level, this means remembering to hug our kids and tell them we love them, every day.
Within our communities, it means supporting our teachers, aides, nurses, custodians and other school employees who educate, care for and create a climate of learning and support for our kids. More broadly, it means giving respect and dignity to the public service workers, nurses, police, first responders, mental health professionals and all who tend to our communities.
On a policy level, it means taking meaningful action for common sense gun laws and ensuring access to services for the mentally ill.
I have spoken with Connecticut Council 4 Executive Director and International Vice President Sal Luciano and AFSCME Council 15 Executive Director Jeff Matchett and told them that the entire AFSCME family will stand with our sisters and brothers in Newtown. We will provide whatever assistance and support they need in the coming weeks and months. They are obviously overwhelmed at the moment, and just doing all they can to accomplish the work before them.
I know so many of you want to help. We’ve set up an online card so that you can send notes of solidarity and sympathy that we will deliver to AFSCME members who are police officers, dispatchers, school nurses and public works employees in Newtown. You can sign the card here.
The pain and loss of this terrible tragedy will stay with us. They are real. But so are the strength and determination of the survivors and the men and women who are working to ease the burden of a community in shock. I know that AFSCME members across the country will stand with our colleagues in Newtown, throughout this difficult season and during the days and years ahead.