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School shooting: How do you tell a child his protectors are dead?

Four victims of the Connecticut school shooting always went out of their way to help a fearful 5-year-old. How does his mom tell him they're dead?

December 16, 2012|By Wesley Lowery and Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times
  • Stuffed animals and a plea for prayer are part of a memorial at the Newtown, Conn., police station for victims of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Stuffed animals and a plea for prayer are part of a memorial at the Newtown,… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Since the shooting, Karen Dryer has done her best to keep the news from her 5-year-old son, Logan. He was already anxious enough about going to kindergarten. For months, she's had to reassure him there was nothing to be afraid of.

How will she tell her son that two of the people who made it a little easier — the girls who accompanied him on the bus to Sandy Hook Elementary School and told him to be brave — were killed there Friday with 18 other children and six adults?

Madeleine Hsu, shy and tiny, wore flowery dresses and lived across the street on Moccasin Trail. Caroline Previdi, bold and green-eyed, lived down the block.

They were both 6, a whole year older than Logan. They would meet him at the bus stop on the corner and hold his hand as he climbed onto the bus. They sat next to him during the short ride.

The girls would tell Logan, who trembled during panic attacks, that school was fun. That there was no reason to be scared.

Caroline promised Logan that she would look out for him. "She proclaimed herself my son's protector on the bus," Dryer said Sunday in a phone interview with The Times. "She took that job, protecting my son, very seriously."

On Friday morning, Logan had another panic attack. His mother kept him off the bus.

"How am I going to explain this to my 5-year-old?" Dryer said. "He was already scared of school."

She has kept the television turned off to shield him from the news. And she goes outside to talk on the phone.

She said she hadn't yet spoken to the families of the two girls but hoped to do so in the coming weeks.

"They may not know me, but their children made a real difference in my son's life," she said. "They were very special little girls."

Almost every day, Dryer said, she would speak to school Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach about how to calm her son's anxieties. Now the two women are among the dead.

"They cared so much for those students," she said. "They worked very hard to do whatever they had to do to make my son feel safe in school."

Through her kitchen window, Dryer can see the state trooper who has been sitting guard outside the Hsu home, hour after hour. She brought him coffee and cookies.

The Hsu family, and most of the other victims' families, were grieving privately over the weekend.

But glimpses of lives cut short continued to emerge.

Noah Pozner was 6. His uncle, Arthur Pozner, said Noah acted like a much older boy, asking detailed questions about the workings of appliances and electronics. "He was curious about everything in life," the uncle said, and among grown-ups "he would speak on an equal basis, like an adult."

Pozner added: "He would look into your eyes and analyze your answer, and maybe ask more questions. And he'd try to process everything."

He said no one had the heart to tell Noah's grandmother, who is 78, that the boy was dead.

"I can't," he said. "It's just too much for her."

Charlotte Bacon, 6, was a first-grader with curly red hair and blue eyes.

Her uncle, John Hagen, said she had been pleading with her mother for weeks to wear her new holiday outfit to school — a pink dress and white boots.

Charlotte was known for her persistence. Her mother finally relented and pinned her daughter's hair up for the occasion. Charlotte was dressed in the outfit Friday.

Hagen described her as "a fearless little girl" who once ran off the edge of a pontoon and jumped into a lake without a moment's hesitation.

"She was able to talk to any adult and carry on a conversation," Hagen said. "She was outgoing. She would walk into a room and just light up a room, she really would."

Her 9-year-old brother, Guy, a student at Sandy Hook, survived the massacre. Her mother, JoAnn Hagen Bacon, led a Girl Scout troop of 10 girls. Five of them were killed Friday, he said.

"I don't want people to forget these little kids," Hagen said. "Not just Charlotte, but all of them."

wesley.lowery@latimes.com

christopher.goffard@latimes.com

Times staff writers Cindy Chang and Christine Mai-Duc contributed to this report.

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