East Coast deaths bring familiar pain to Colorado

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Upon the tragic news coming from Newtown, Conn., a collective clutch of familiar grief gripped the south-metro community.

Residents know what lies ahead for that community in the coming days, weeks and years, having lived through April 20, 1999. That's when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 of their fellow Columbine High School students, a teacher and themselves.

At Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, Adam Lanza killed twice as many people plus himself, and most of his victims were first-graders.

Each time a similar tragedy occurs, Columbine is on the lips of the nation. As support from the country flooded into the community after the massacre, regional leaders formed the Greater Littleton Youth Initiative to keep it from happening again.

“Amazingly, at our last meeting, we just spoke about how the GLYI needs to be prepared to provide outreach and information on our own experience to help other communities in tragic situations like Columbine,” said program manager Kay Wilmesher. “Unfortunately, the time has come already.”

GLYI and city officials are sending a letter to Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School expressing condolences and mentioning how this community has been working toward healthy changes.

After every school shooting, the face of the south-metro area reflects the grief it now shares with more and more communities. Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Scott Murphy felt compelled to send a letter home with students.

“There are no words to express our sadness and our sympathies to those impacted,” writes Murphy. “There is nothing more important to us than your child's safety.”

All LPS schools have been on heightened alert since last Friday, he said, and security personnel are making extra patrols. More information about school safety and resources for talking to children about tragic events are available on the LPS website, www.littletonpublicschools.net.

“Please know that our protocols are some of the very best in the nation, but there is always more that could be done,” said Murphy. “These conversations are currently taking place.”

City officials, too, have acknowledged the tragedy, posting tips for helping kids feel safe at www.littletongov.org.

“The magnitude of death and destruction in traumatic events require special attention and communication with children,” it says.

Additionally, in the wake of its theater tragedy, the city of Aurora launched a self-help trauma-recovery website at www.aurorastrong.bluesunsupport.com.

“One of the many things we have learned about trauma recovery since July 20 is the extent to which additional events — whether another tragic event such as last Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, or simply the stress of the holiday season — can trigger retraumatization,” said Karen Morales, spokesperson for the 7/20 Recovery Committee. “This site will help people make sense of what they are feeling and empower them to take positive steps toward managing their own recovery.”

And in what seems an unimaginable necessity, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson shared steps to take when faced with an active shooter. First among them is, “Quickly determine the most reasonable way to protect your own life.”

Murphy encourages the community to keep working together to help ensure LPS children stay out of harm's way.

“The vigilance of our parents, students, staff and neighbors is the very best safety measure there is,” he said.

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