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Communities cope with tragedy

A state line and approximately 25 miles separate Lewisboro from Newtown, Conn. On Friday, Dec. 14, that distance was dwarfed by the magnitude of the atrocity of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Twenty children and six teachers were murdered by an individual whose level of mental instability may never be known beyond the horror and insanity of his actions.

Shock waves of fear have rippled throughout the country, and the pain of that day has been felt by countless communities and school districts, including Katonah-Lewisboro.

On the day of the shooting, as schools throughout Connecticut took emergency lockdown security measures, Katonah-Lewisboro checked on its six staff members who either live in Newtown or have family there. Lewisboro police were also dispatched to patrol Katonah-Lewisboro’s six schools that afternoon.

“I am aware that there are five members of our staff who live in the Newtown community and one staff member with a spouse on the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary,” Katonah-Lewisboro school board President Mark Lipton said in a statement the next day. “While we know that their families were not touched in the most tragic way by these events, I am certain that they, as well as many of their families and friends, have been greatly or perhaps tragically touched by this senseless taking of life. Our thoughts are with those staff members and all who were affected by this crime.”

Many of those thoughts quickly turned toward Katonah, as news broke that one of Katonah’s own, Anne Marie Murphy, was among the victims of Friday’s tragedy. A 52-year-old native of Katonah, Ms. Murphy was a teacher at Sandy Hook who was killed while shielding students from the gunman.

A 14-year resident of Sandy Hook, she was the husband of Michael Murphy and a mother of four. Ms. Murphy, a 1978 graduate of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Somers, still has family in the area, including Katonah, and is well known in the district.

Sandy Grebinar, president of the Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers Association, said many teachers in the district have taught relatives of Ms. Murphy.

“Many teachers know the family,” she said. “We are heartbroken and are profoundly honored by her and fellow staff’s heroic acts of bravery to protect the lives of their students.”

District plan

On Monday morning, Katonah-Lewisboro Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer issued a statement regarding the district’s response to the tragedy.

“Today our crisis teams and building administrators welcomed back our students to school with a specific purpose in mind: helping students, in an age-appropriate way, deal with their questions, concerns, and fears inside the school setting,” he said. “On the matter of school safety and security, we are, of course, deeply shocked and disturbed at the nature of the breach in Newtown, especially given the obvious care and concern that the school demonstrated with their existing security system. We are taking the time to reflect upon this, and I am asking that our administrators re-evaluate safety measures and security plans immediately for each of our schools and that our District Safety Committee review our district plan as well.”

Coping

As students in Newtown returned to school this week, the Connecticut community began receiving support from people, and pets, from both near and far.

Ronan, an Australian shepherd service dog whose handler, Lucian Lipinsky de Orlov, lives in Goldens Bridge, is part of the Good Dog Foundation. The organization asked Ronan to be the first Good Dog to help rescuers and students in Newtown cope with Friday’s tragedy.

On Tuesday Mr. Lipinsky took Ronan, who is from a South Salem breeder, to visit Reed Intermediate School in Newtown, as well as the Newtown firehouse.

Ronan, an Australian shepherd service dog from a South Salem breeder, visited Newtown on Tuesday, Dec. 18, as part of the Good Dog Foundation. His handler, Lucian Lipinsky de Orlov, lives in Goldens Bridge.

Mr. Lipinsky de Orlov said that dogs like Ronan can be sources of anonymous, non-judgmental support for students and adults alike.

“The therapy dogs make such a difference that teachers were calling requesting visits,” he said. “One fifth grade science and math teacher called to get Ronan to come to his class. While in the class — at least for a while — the trauma of recent events went away.”

Mr. Lipinsky de Orlov said that “it was stunning and heartwarming” to see students open up and show a bit of happiness while interacting with Ronan.

“There were so many students needing some ‘dog time’ that I couldn’t even see Ronan under all the petting and rubbing hands.”

As the coping begins, people are seeking comfort in the sense of community that has been strengthened in this difficult time.

“This is an event that will never make sense, no matter what facts we may learn,” Mr. Lipton said in his statement. “I hope that we will keep those affected by this tragedy in our hearts in the days and weeks ahead, while we all hug our loved ones a little tighter this weekend.”

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