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My Reflections On A Senseless Tragedy

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WATERBURY, CT – It’s Wednesday, December 19th. Today I was scheduled to fly to New Orleans to photograph this years’ R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl game. I was looking forward to visiting this city once again. I last visited back in 2004 when the Connecticut Women’s Basketball Team won the NCAA national championship. Sadly, this city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy that devastated the city, the State of Louisiana, and affected the entire country and rest of the world.

Sadly, my trip to New Orleans will have to wait for another time. Why? Because I, along with my family, many friends and loved ones, are grieving the senseless death of my goddaughter and niece, Rachel Marie D’Avino, along with 25 others that lost their lives in a tragedy that took place in my home state of Connecticut and the City of Newtown this past Friday, the 14th.

Since late Friday morning my life will be forever changed. I received a text message from my daughter Melissa, who was a behavioral therapist at one of the other schools in Newtown earlier this school year. She said, “Dad, that is the school that Rachel works at!” Then sadly, the waiting game started. As family members continued to exchange calls, e-mails or text messages trying to find out if she was okay or not.

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Late that evening our family was told that all survivors from this senseless tragedy were accounted for. It wasn’t until early Saturday morning that my sister-in-law Mary was told that her daughter’s life was taken from us. Rachel, a 29-year behavioral therapist of special needs students, had tried to shield her students from the flying bullets. She paid the ultimate price for her heroism on that dreadful day.

Many of us have experienced death in our families at some point in time. My father passed away 10 years ago. I was prepared for that because I knew it was going to happen soon when he became ill. However, this incident was totally different. I have never experienced death in the form of murder before. It’s not the same thing as losing a parent due to illness. The emotions of anger and rage fill your body as you try to contemplate why something like this happened. Here it is five days later and I am still juggling a thousands different scenarios in my mind as to why. Hopefully we will find out why it happened someday.

Whenever a senseless and sad act such as Friday’s at Sandy Hook Elementary School takes place, the kindness in people comes out. Since I first posted a message on Facebook that my niece worked at that school, I have had countless people reach out to me, with well wishes, thoughts, prayers, offers of sympathy and much, much more, whether by phone calls, e-mails, through Facebook or via this website. The remarkable thing is these messages came from all over the world and not just from Connecticut. This is inspiring and amazing.

Please allow me to share a few of them with you. These are from athletes, colleagues, friends, and from people that I don’t even know.

From Jason: Mike, My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time. I have no words to ease your pain but only offer my love and support to you and your family. Any time, any place, if you need me I will be there. Thank you for always being there for me….Your kindness will never be forgotten.

From Donald: I’m so sorry for the loss of your niece and for everyone and your family. Unbelievable, senseless, so terrible. Please stay strong, Mike. This is a devastating moment for your family… I don’t know if it helps to know that the entire country is devastated by this horrible event… but I’m sure nothing is much comfort at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and yours, Mike.

From Jessica: So sorry for your loss. Praying for you and your family.

From Barbara Lynn: My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time. May God bless you all.

From Patti: Good morning Mike. Please take comfort in knowing you are all in our thoughts and prayers. Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

This last one is from one of my best friends and I cannot thank him enough for sending it to me.

From Larry: Mike, I don’t really have any idea what to say to you…there really isn’t anything to say that would make any difference. I’m incredibly sorry for you and your whole family. Parents are not supposed to have their children predecease them, particularly in this tragic, violent and senseless way.

It’s stupid, I know, but when I saw her name on the list when they officially released the victims’ names, it was only then that I truly lost it. I guess it’s a sad commentary on our society as a whole that it takes seeing the name in print before you truly believe that something this unbelievable could possibly happen to someone who’s family has treated me like a family member, a privilege I do not take in any way lightly, especially coming from a family as close as yours.

Rachel…such a beautiful name. I had an aunt named Rachel on my father’s side. She was married to my uncle who played for the Philadelphia A’s and Yankees. She died tragically in her early 30’s. It was tough not to think about her when I saw your niece’s name, although dying from a disease isn’t remotely close to what you’re going through.

Please express my heartfelt condolences to everyone in your family. I honestly don’t feel like going through with our planned trip to NO in view of what has happened. I’d prefer to attend the funeral or memorial service for your niece, but I know that’s still very up in the air because of the police situation. To give you some idea of the kind of people I work with, one of the partners in our law firm told me to forget about work and go to the funeral.

As I hope you know, you may call me anytime, 24/7 if you need to talk, or if there is anything I can do for you or anyone in your family. If you need me to do anything for you regarding SPM or anything else, just say the word.

Try to stay strong for your loved ones.

Love,

Larry

Larry is an awesome and dear friend. I hope that all of you have a person like him in your lives. I am glad that I do.

I am also fortunate enough to have a strong and supportive family. We all believe in each other and we help each other in time of need. This time was no different. I only needed to reach out to my cousin Michelle Cutrali and I knew that the rest of my family would be well informed about what was taking place and what was needed of them. They did not disappoint. Once again, all of my family came through to help comfort my mom along with my brother.

It has taken until today for me to build up the strength and courage to drive to Newtown and see the shrines that have been raised throughout the center and other parts of the town. I was awestruck. Tears ran down the sides of my face and I could feel the break in my heart as I looked at all of the flowers, candles, stuffed animals, writings, pictures and many other beautiful gestures. When seeing my niece’s name in various tributes the heartache continued and continues. It is really difficult to express all of the feelings and emotions that were running through my body and mind. Once again, all of these artifacts in Newtown were from well wishers that wanted to share their pain and kindness from all parts of the United States and throughout the world. I have seen these shrines on the news but until you see them personally and feel them personally you cannot understand how they make you feel internally as a person.

The next two days will be difficult ones for me, as Rachel’s wake and funeral are coming up. However, I plan on going back one day this coming weekend so I can experience that togetherness feeling once again. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were that way all the time.

Please take a few moments to view my Sandy Hook Elementary School Shrine Photo Gallery.

Photo Tribute.

We have established a Rachel Marie D’Avino Memorial Fund if you would like to make a charitable contribution. After the services for my niece there will be a website established, and more information will be provided regarding how the contributions will be used to benefit worthy charitable causes.