Spared In Shooting, Holiday Spirit Comforts Family

One family whose son was in Sandy Hook Elementary during the shooting spends the day visiting Santa and trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Newtown, Connecticut, the small New England community continues to mourn after Friday's shooting that claimed the lives of so many children. Families with children in the school who survived the shooting are struggling to explain the tragedy to their kids. But they're also trying to retain some normalcy in the holiday season.

Jeff Cohen, from member station WNPR, met up with one family.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JEFF COHEN, BYLINE: In Greenwich, Santa is inside McArdle's Florist and Garden Center. Outside are his reindeer - four real, live reindeer for everyone to see.

Brian Baillargeon is here with his family. It's about an hour from the Sandy Hook Elementary School where his son Hunter is in third grade. Together, they're trying to figure out which reindeer is which.

HUNTER BAILLARGEON: You say their name and then they'll look at you. Vixen. Donner. Dancer...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: That's right.

COHEN: I met Baillargeon Friday morning, as he left the school in Newtown after he had been reunited with his son. At that point, all he knew was that two or three staff members had been hurt. The news would get much worse. Baillargeon has talked a lot with his son since then, trying to help the eight-year-old understand.

BRIAN BAILLARGEON: You know, he understands exactly what happened. He asked when does he think he can go back to school and, you know, and we tell him we're not sure. You know, and he asked me today if he's going to get his coat and his lunchbox that's still in the classroom. And I said yes, Hunter.

(LAUGHTER)

BAILLARGEON: You know, you'll get your lunchbox and your coat.

COHEN: And, of course, the boy also had questions about people, including principal Dawn Hochsprun, who died in the attack.

BAILLARGEON: He had a really good relationship with the principal. You know, and he asked us today, you know, when do you think that they're going to, you know, find another principal?

COHEN: He's also got friends in first grade from soccer and after-school activities.

BAILLARGEON: He's wondering if one of his friends is OK. You know, so, you know, definitely not taking our mind off of it. We're just trying to just kind of, you know, just moving forward as best as we can with the situations that we're given.

COHEN: For his part, Baillargeon says it's hard for him to process the fact that so many young lives have been lost. Of the dead, 20 were children most of them six and seven years old.

BAILLARGEON: These kids are just - they haven't even gotten - they haven't even had a chance. You know? They didn't even get a chance to steal a candy bar from Stop 'N Shop. You know what I mean? It's like they're - and it's unfortunate. You know, I'm still in shock. I don't know. It's hard to explain.

COHEN: Eventually, Baillargeon decided it was time to try and think about something else - for a little while, anyway. So they came here.

BAILLARGEON: We're here today just to kind of get the kids out. A nice, beautiful, you know, day and holiday season. And they just wanted to, you know, come and see Santa and the reindeers. And then, just kind of get some fresh air.

COHEN: Baillargeon says he knows there will be more hard conversations. But at least for a few minutes, it felt like the holidays again.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Cohen.

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