JoAnn Newberry was glued to her television set on Dec. 14 when news broke of a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
A native of Orange and a 1976 graduate of Dallas High School, Newberry and her husband, Barry Sacks, live in Southbury, CT, just four miles from Newtown. Their son, 13-year-old Jesse, was locked down at a middle school in Southbury during the incident.
Newberry and Sacks are both former Times Leader employees, she as business manager and he as a sportswriter. Sacks is now employed as a senior producer at ESPN. Newberry's nephew, DJ Carey, a 2008 graduate of Dallas High School, also lives with them and works at ESPN.
The news was numbing. Twenty 6 and 7-year-old children dead. Six faculty and staff members murdered. Hundreds of children and their families traumatized.
Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, who lived in Newtown with his mother, Nancy, had forced his way into the elementary school shortly after classes began and opened fire before taking his own life. Police later found Nancy Lanza dead in her home.
As children were taken from the school building and led across the street to the Newtown Fire Hall, Newberry's pastor, the Rev. Walter Pitman, of the United Congregational Church in Southbury, was one of four chaplains called upon to comfort families and first responders.
On Sunday, just two days after the shooting, the crowd at United Congregational Church was a standing-room only one. Newberry and her family were there, seeking comfort in Rev. Pitman's words.
And Pitman delivered, leaving not a dry eye in the house.
He talked about a first responder, whom he said was a 6'3 strapping guy, Newberry remembered. The guy came out of the school with a child, placed that child in his mother's arms, then turned around and collapsed in the pastor's arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
Rev. Pitman told his congregation how he and he other pastors prayed and cried with the first responders, talking with them as they all worked their way through what could only be conceived as unthinkable.
He talked about how family members were at the fire hall, receiving their children as they came out of the school. But, then he talked about what happened when the last child was reunited with his mother.
He said the fire hall became very quiet, Newberry said. Then you heard crying, then sobbing, then yelling. He and the other pastors waited with the families as long as they needed them to, comforting them.
During his Sunday sermon, Rev. Pitman talked about how God created the world but no one said He made it perfect. He talked about how God also created nature and chaos. He told the congregation he felt God was on the scene at the school and the fire house, helping first responders do their jobs. And he felt God's presence when he returned home to his own family members that night, as they hugged him and expressed their thanks for his safety.
The pastor always invites children to the front of the church on Sunday mornings and talks to them prior to sending them off to their Sunday School classes. Last Sunday's children's sermon was like no other.
He told the children to always remember that they are loved and that he loves them. He asked if they knew who else loves them and asked the entire congregation to stand.
He then said, ‘All these people love you and they will keep you safe,' Newberry said. He choked up. It was very powerful.
At the conclusion of the service, Rev. Pitman told everyone present that no one would leave the church without a hug. With his wife at his side, the pastor hugged each and every parishioner as they exited the church.
Although Newberry does not know anyone involved in the tragedy, the best friend of her exercise partner has a daughter who attends Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The girl told her mother she saw the robber, Newberry said. She said he had on a mask and he was there to take their lunch money.