Column and Photographs By Mike D’Avino

   Five years ago on this day the lives of many people in Connecticut, the United States and around the world changed because of a senseless act of cowardliness. I remember the accounts of what took place in Sandy Hook as vividly as if it was yesterday.

   I had heard about the shootings at a grammar school in Newtown on the radio. I listened closely because I have family that taught there. As news was unfolding around mid-morning my daughter Melissa sent me a text message saying, “Dad, Sandy Hook is the school that Rachel teaches at”.  

   Rachel D’Avino is my niece. Not soon afterwards my brother texted me also, and said, “Mike, I don’t feel good about this”.

    A short time later I left work to go be by my brother’s side at his shop. Family members had started to gather there as well. We silently waited hoping to hear news that Rachel was okay. Sadly, the minutes turned into hours, and any glimpse of hope turned into tears as the day passed on and she was not accounted for. Family gathered at the shop left and went to my mom’s house. Telling my mom that her eldest granddaughter was a victim in that morning’s school shooting was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Tears covered her face. She could barely sit because she was shaking and kept asking why. Tragically, we will never know why.

   After the names and faces of the 20 young children and six teachers were released, the media took over. That is all I will say about the media.

    Within days Newtown was turned into a living shrine. Flowers, cards and items of all sorts lined several streets from well-wishers from all over the world. My wife Marge and I went to view the tribute on Tuesday. We laid our flowers down next to countless others that were perched near a bridge. I turned to Marge and told her that I needed to leave. It was too painful to be there.

    By Saturday I had built up the courage to go back. This time I was alone, but I brought one of my cameras with me. I parked by the high school then walked towards downtown. As I walked I just snapped picture after picture. It started out as just pictures from the various acts of kindness. I then started looking for anything that had Rachel’s name on it as I walked around the three main streets.

    Everything that I saw was breathtaking. My stay this time was long. When I got to the Christmas trees I sat in front of Rachel’s for a very long time. It was just a peaceful place.

    I was unaware that on the day of the shooting my niece Sarah was on the radio with Chaz and AJ. She had called to see if anyone had heard from her sister. That call helped change both DJ’s lives as well. A year later Chaz and AJ had Sarah back on the radio talking about what took place the previous year. I was at work listening to the interview. Midway through the interview I walked to my desk, covered my face and cried for what seemed an eternity. All of the pain, sadness and anger that entranced my body for a year finally came out. The feeling was hurtful and helpful at the same time.

   Here it is now five years later and the memories don’t go away. They return on Rachel’s birthday in July, on December 14th, and on all of the holidays. Much love and hopefully peace to all of the families that lost a family member on this tragic day five years ago.