This week marks the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. (December 14, 2012)
One of the stories of hope that came out of that terrible day was the story of the little yellow house down the street from the school.
This is where a group of first grade children fled after escaping the gunman and witnessing the death of their teacher (Victoria Soto) and many of their fellow classmates.
The small story-and-a-half historic home with green shutters is owned by a man named Gene Rosen.
Mr. Rosen is a 69-year old retired psychologist and grandfather.
Rosen told reporters that on the fateful morning, he had just finishing feeding his cats and was heading out to visit a local diner for breakfast. As he was going down his driveway, he noticed a small group of children huddled in a neat semi-circle at the end of his driveway. A school bus driver had seen them too and pulled over.
“We can’t go back to school,” one of the children cried, “Our teacher is dead!”
The kids recounted the unthinkable carnage they had just witnessed. This was the first time Mr. Rosen had learned of the school shooting – he told reporters he had indeed heard gun shots earlier but just assumed it was some hunters in the woods.
The school bus driver took down the names of the children and proceeded to radio their information to headquarters where the staff would try for the next several hours to track down the children’s stricken parents.
In the meantime, Mr. Rosen invited the children into his cozy home on that chilly December day.
The small yellow house became an instant sanctuary from the trauma the children had just come through – a safe house amidst the terror, chaos and confusion.
Gene Rosen gave the children juice and ran upstairs to get the stuffed animals that his grandchildren played with when they visited. He gave each of the 6 children – 4 girls and 2 boys – a stuffed animal to hold while they anxiously talked and waited.
Rosen told reporters that some of the children narrated in graphic detail what they had witnessed; others were quiet and withdrawn.
At one point, one of the boys turned to Rosen from looking out the window and said: “Just saying – your house is very small.” It was a moment of child levity amidst an almost unfathomable tragedy.
The children took refuge at the little yellow house for several hours until their panicked parents were able to be contacted. A couple of hours after the last first-grader was claimed by a grateful parent, Rosen described how a terrified mother came to his door asking if her son had been there. She crumbled when he told her no, all the children who were at his house had been reunited with their parents. The following day when the victims’ names were made public, Rosen saw the boy’s name on that list.
Just days after Gene Rosen went public with his story from that terrible day, conspiracy theorists accused him of being an actor and being part of a grand plot with the media and federal government whom they say made up the whole tragedy. You can read more on that here.
Mr. Rosen was hounded on-line and in person by skeptics who questioned his version of events. Their major problem with his story was the fact that his house is located right next door to a fire station and the group of children would have had to run right past the fire station in order to get to his driveway.
To the conspiracy folks, it seemed implausible that the children would pass up the safety of a fire station and instead opt for an unknown little yellow house.
We may never really know for sure why the children did this – they may not even know themselves.
But I suspect that in their young subconscious minds, they did think that they were going to a safe place. As a life-long house lover, it makes perfect sense to me that the kids by-passed the imposing institutional fire station (they had just been shot at in their school institution, after all) and ended up in the driveway of a welcoming private home instead.
Perhaps the quaint house beckoned to them; perhaps a higher power had a hand in it; or, perhaps the kids just ran out of steam on that very spot.
It doesn’t really matter. Because they ended up where they needed to be.