Conn. tragedy strikes close to home for Portsmouth woman
PORTSMOUTH - Beth Finelli's childhood memories spent at Sandy Hook Elementary School have been shattered.
The 33-year-old Portsmouth woman grew up in Newtown, Conn., and attended the K-4 school where a gunman opened fire Friday morning, reportedly killing at least 27 people, many of them young children.
"From growing up there, this is the safest, most tight-knit, beautiful community. You can't even imagine something like this happening. It's unreal and I'm so sad for the community. It'll never be the same," she said as she took her first break from watching the non-stop coverage of the tragedy that has torn her apart and shaken a nation.
Finelli, whose children are 2 and 6, graduated from Sandy Hook in 1990. Her mother taught third- and fifth-grade at the school until she retired a little more than a decade ago.
While Finelli and her brother, Portsmouth dentist Adam Bottrill, now live in New Hampshire, their ties to Newtown and Sandy Hook run deep. She had only fond memories from her days at Sandy Hook.
"I can say that it always felt like home. The principal and the teachers all loved being there. When we would all arrive the principal would greet us individually. Everybody knows everybody for good reason," she said.
Finelli first learned of the tragedy when her mother sent her a text message telling her about reports of shots being fired at their old school. "Mom never texts, so I knew it was important," she said.
It wasn't until Finelli started hearing the number of those killed that she realized the magnitude of the tragedy.
"When they started releasing the numbers and specifically said it was a kindergarten class targeted...I just can't wrap my brain around that," she said.
Finelli moved away from Newtown when she left for college in 1997, but she still remembers what the school looked like when she was a young student. While the school is bigger than it was when she attended, it looks the same as when her mother taught there.
"Seeing your town on the news for all the wrong reasons, it's just a surreal experience," she said.
Finelli has been in contact with other friends in Newtown to make sure they and their children were OK. So far, she's learned that the children of her friends attend other nearby elementary schools while some friends have parents who work in other schools.
Finelli now wonders how her old town will heal.
"If you can't be safe in Newtown, Conn. Nothing happens there. People there are just good," she said. "I don't think there's any coming back from this. There has to be some start over at some point, but I don't even know how a child could go back into that school."