Sandy Hook school massacre an assault on all of us

At South Florida elementary school, parents and teachers hit hard by heinous shooting

Forget about why. Right now, the question bothering me most is "How?"

How could anybody, no matter how mentally ill or depraved, gun down an entire classroom of kindergarteners?

How does someone keep shooting without some semblance of remorse — or humanity — kicking in?

How does a brain get so scrambled that it could wipe out that many innocent young lives — 20 kids — and six other adults at the school, in such a heinous final act?

"We're not anywhere near Connecticut, but right now I'm feeling numb," Michele Harmer said Friday.

"When I heard, my whole body went cold," Angela Rocha said. "Five-year-olds? With their whole lives in front of them. Come on. It's just so hard to process."

Harmer and Rocha are teachers at Dania Elementary School. Ms. Harmer is my daughter's first-grade teacher. Ms. Rocha, who has a kindergarten class, taught my daughter last year.

When news of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., broke, I felt a punch to the gut, a nauseating feeling I hadn't really experienced since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was like this for many parents and teachers throughout South Florida on Friday.

"I'm sick," said a sobbing Carmen Raedlescu, as she picked up her son Daniel, a first-grader, from Dania Elementary.

President Barack Obama paused and wiped away tears when he spoke of the "beautiful little kids" who would not be celebrating birthdays, graduations and other milestones.

"Our hearts are broken today," he said.

There have been so many other shooting massacres in our country through the years. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora.

But this might be the worst of all.

When I saw pictures of children being led from Sandy Hook Elementary with anguished looks on their faces, I couldn't help but see my own daughter.

And then I imagined the kids in the classroom, bloodied and crumpled, 11 days before Christmas.

And then I imagined their parents as they were told.

And then I cried. I called my ex-wife. She was crying, too.

It wasn't my day to pick up Natalia, but I asked if it would be all right to tag along for dismissal. I said I wanted to talk to parents and teachers for my column.

What I really wanted to do was hug my girl. Hard.

There was a startling disconnect when the final bell rang at 2 p.m. Most of the parents knew about the shooting. But the teachers and kids did not. For them it was just a routine Friday, with no special announcement about the events.