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FD man recalls Newtown

December 21, 2012
By JANE CURTIS, , Messenger News

The school massacre in Newtown, Conn., eight days ago was particularly bitter news for Jay Tiernan.

Tiernan, of Fort Dodge, grew up in Newtown. The school where the shooting occurred was his school.

"It was my elementary school K to fifth grade, 1980-1985," said Tiernan, a former assistant Hamilton County attorney. "The school was the safest place in the safest town I've ever experienced."

Newtown, a classic New England village that grew into the surrounding hills, was a wonderful place to grow up, he said.

"When I was watching the TV footage, I kept wondering if the green footprints still existed on the road from the firehouse to the school," he said. "The school's mascot was the Green Giant.

"I still have my Sandy Hook school pennant," he added. "Weird the things we hold on to."

A spring morning. Gym class on a field in front of the school. This is the first memory Tiernan has of his former school.

Since then, that field has become a parking lot. The school changed in other ways too.

"The layout of the school had already doubled the last time I visited there when I was in high school," Tiernan said. "I thought it would be fun to ride my bike from my house to school. No concept of distance or hills at the time. I remember the principal, the same principal I spent so many hours with in elementary school in trouble for one thing or another, greeting me at the door and guiding me to the nearest water fountain. Then giving me the tour. The entrance doesn't look like it had changed too much, and if so, the windows in the front of the school were floor to ceiling, four or five of them right next to the front door. Lots of memories."

He is familiar with - and supports - law enforcement and stringent security measures.

"I'm not overstating that it was an extremely safe school," he said.

Newtown, Tiernan said, didn't have a bad part of town.

"There was no part of town that was considered unsafe or less than safe," he said. "There were places you didn't go. When I was in high school they built a maximum security prison just off the interstate. I've heard they converted the massive mental hospital - a campus, actually, with multiple three- and four-story brick buildings, each big enough to accommodate a school - they've converted them into condos last I heard. But even before that, when I was a kid, it was still a mental hospital. But it was still safe, to the point we used to have our league soccer games on the fields on Fairfield Hills hospital."

Tiernan said it's strange the kinds of memories that have popped into his head in the wake of the shootings.

"It's the school I won first prize in the science fair my first and fourth grades," he said.

Back then, Newtown's only movie theater was in the town hall.

"The first movie I saw there was Star Wars."

The damage done to those memories leads Tiernan to ask this question: "Do you think they - society, politicians - will ever take a serious look at the mental health care our country offers?"



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