A parent’s worst nightmare

2012-12-16 10:00

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A few minutes before 10am on Friday, Michelle Urbina was speaking with a customer at the small bank branch that she manages in Bethel, Connecticut, when her assistant interrupted her.

“What school does your daughter go to?”

“Sandy Hook,” Urbina replied.

“There’s been a shooting there,” her assistant said.

As Urbina headed for the door, her phone began buzzing with text messages from friends and other parents.

It is a 20-minute drive from Bethel to the school.

The landscape rolled by unseen as a friend from the other end of town spoke to her on her mobile phone, relaying news from someone who was monitoring a police scanner.

None of it told her what she wanted to know: what about Lenie, her nine-year-old daughter?

From another direction, Michelle’s husband, Curtis, drove their sport utility vehicle along winding roads towards the school.

In the back seat, their three-year-old son, Harry, was buckled into his car seat, wearing only his pyjamas and a coat.

The Urbinas had moved to Newtown five years ago.

Curtis had grown up in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. Michelle was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

They fell in love with the peace of their friendly small town.

“We wanted the big back yard,” Michelle Urbina said. “The fresh air. The country. The good schools. It’s an idyllic small town – not materialistic flashy people, just people who smile and say hello to you.”

They knew everyone at Lenie’s school, or so it seemed.

Curtis Urbina, a stay-at-home father, coaches youth wrestling in town and was in the gym or cafeteria several times a week for practice.

The night before, the Urbinas had gone to the grade 4 holiday chorale celebration, overseen by the principal, Dawn Hochsprung.

Even using back roads on Friday morning, Curtis Urbina still had to park almost half a kilometre away.

He scooped his son under his arm and began running, little Harry giggling at what seemed like a game to him.

“It’s utter fear,” he said. “Your heart stops. Your chest doesn’t move. I’m a dad. What can I do? I’m helpless,” Curtis said.

Michelle Urbina landed in a knot of traffic that forms on even the best of days in the little downtown.

She peeled out of it and pulled into a restaurant lot, parking so fast that she hit a concrete bumper.

She ran the rest of the way, the heels of her work shoes drilling into her feet.

Near the school, Curtis Urbina saw the volunteer firefighters, who pointed him towards their firehouse. The students at Sandy Hook “are always doing fire drills”, he said. “And incident drill. The fire station is their gathering point. The kids know it.”

It was packed, the little ones, many in tears, were being soothed by their teachers.

Parents were already there, scouring the room for their children. Across the room, Urbina saw his daughter’s grade?4 teacher.

There was Lenie.

They ran into each other’s arms, each sobbing.

“I had to put her down because other parents who weren’t so nearby needed to know about their kids and I wanted to get word to them,” he said.

First though, he sent a text to his wife.

“I have Lenie,” it read.

Lenie, who was in gym class when the trouble started, later told her parents that over the public address system, she had heard someone say, “Put your hands up”, and then bang after bang followed.

Later, in the afternoon, Curtis Urbina drove home a boy he was taking care of while his parents awaited word on the boy’s brother, who was unaccounted for.

Walking back to his own house, he glanced at his wife, shook his head and said: “It’s confirmed.”

His wife turned away. “I’m sleeping,” she said. “I’m speaking to you, but I am surely asleep.”

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