Remarkable heroism alongside evil at Sandy Hook

By Richard Justice
12/18/12 5:45 PM ET

We never will fully grasp what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. -- not in any meaningful way. This was too much evil and too much pain, and we just aren't built to wrap our minds around something so awful. We shouldn't even pretend otherwise.
So, we do all we really know how to do, helping each other through the grieving process.
There has been an outpouring of thoughts and emotions from across the country, from our nation's capital to our national pastime.
"The family of MLB offers condolences to all those affected by the tragedy in Newtown," @MLB tweeted. "We mourn those lost, honor those who sacrificed their lives and pay tribute to the children, families and community."
We pray that the years ahead will bring some numbing of the pain and some measure of meaning to the lives that now seem drained of it.
We pray for the victims and for the people who love them and whose loss is incomprehensible. We pray that those left behind find answers. We pray for ourselves, too. What has happened to our world? Why have so many been moved to do so much evil?
We will be comforted by the extraordinary courage of the adults who lost their lives while protecting the children. They appear to have done this without a second thought about their own safety.
That's the most amazing thing about these people to whom we entrust our kids, these teachers and coaches and counselors. They love our kids more deeply than we sometimes know, and they are invested in them, in their success and happiness. They cheer them on their good days and comfort them on their bad days.
They're only with our kids for a short while, and they don't see what they do as a job. They do it because they are extraordinary people with huge, caring hearts, people who would rather light a candle than curse the darkness.
There are teachers who become parent figures when kids have no other. There are coaches who think nothing of preparing breakfasts and springing for dinner because they're not sure what will happen to the kids when they return to their homes.
In that moment of terror on Friday, Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung did what came naturally for her. She rushed to protect her children, to confront the gunman and to throw herself into the line of fire.
To the hundreds of kids she'd known through the years, this was the norm for Hochsprung. She had invested her life in Sandy Hook, in all those kids. In a larger sense, they were her kids, too.
There were other stories like hers at Sandy Hook. School psychologist Mary Sherlach died, too, right there, doing the only thing she knew how to do. Her instincts were to protect her children.
Special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy was discovered with her lifeless body slumped over a group of murdered students, an instant attempt to shield them from the evil.
Once the shooting ended, as the first responders gathered the children to get them to safety, their priority was to shield the young eyes from the devastation. They ran into the building for the same reason Hochsprung sprinted from her office. All that mattered was the children.
Twenty of the children died, beautiful and innocent and carrying the dreams of parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors. These are the kids who stop you in your tracks with their laughter and their beauty, with their smiles and their joy.
Their deaths have prompted us to cry and to pray and to feel a dozen different emotions. They've prompted us to hold our children and to tell them how much we love them. We all feel a little less safe today.
As President Obama said, from the moment our kids are born, they begin separating from us, a day and an inch at a time. At some point, there is only so much we can do, because we must allow them to grow and learn and become their own people.
At times like this, at a time when the world feels less sane, at a time when the acts of violence have become increasingly evil and random, we are at a loss.
Maybe there will be gun-control legislation out of this. Maybe we'll take a look at the way we romanticize violence and how we desensitize our young people to it. Maybe, as in past cases, we'll do far too little.
Those conversations are starting to happen and must continue. For now, our hearts break for the 20 children who will feel no more terror and for the six adults who died trying to protect them. They represented the best in all of us. They can never be replaced.