The good people of Connecticut may not know much about Yucatán, but the good people of Yucatán are learning a lot about us.
On Friday morning, when I was expecting a fairly easy day in the newsroom, word came in of a school shooting about 30 minute up Route 25, in Newtown. I instantly, instinctively rebuffed reality. It’s just some shots fired, I told myself. In Newtown, one of our state’s most beloved small towns? This can’t be. I continued planning a gripping front-pager about service-sector employment levels.
Then, we learn two people have been sent to Danbury Hospital. Thank God! Just two people hurt, I assume. Then the news gets progressively worse over the next few hours. Twelve shot. Twenty shot, then 26, 28, mostly tiny children, all but one dead.
We are handed (and repeat) many more false facts and red herrings over the next 48 hours. Websites have turned newspapers into live 24/7 broadcasters, no different than the ABC affiliate that shares part of our newsroom. We don’t have the luxury of a single daily deadline to weigh the facts.
Social media is a source of crackpot speculation, cruel hoaxes and sanctimony. And even though the police are extremely cautious as they examine multiple crime scenes, trying to find surviving witnesses, what little they tell us is often incorrect. Later, those same police guard the homes of victims’ families, partly to protect them from prying and insensitive reporters who have arrived from not just our newspapers, but from all corners of the globe. One woman, mourning her sister, urges others to freeze out reporters, whose presence admittedly becomes overbearing. Gathering information is slow going and problematic.
As someone who is orchestrating a gradual transition from Fairfield County to Yucatán, these days I can no longer find escape by clicking my web browser bookmarks filed in the “Mérida” folder. Diario’s front page is tasked with introducing Mérida to distant Connecticut. My two worlds have collided and the Sandy Hook massacre is probably the first thing some expats and most native Meridanos will have learned about the place I come from.
This tragedy invites sweeping generalizations about gun-toting Americans, and it’s true that we are awash in easily obtained weaponry. But our increasingly complex country defies cowboy stereotypes. Otherwise peaceful and relatively homogenous, Newtown is what you might think every New England town looks like if you’ve seen New England only in the movies. Historic, verdant, down to earth, but now under a dark cloud of despair.