WOODRIDGE, Ill. (STMW) — The light will shine extra brightly Monday evening in and around Seven Bridges Estates — and perhaps beyond.
When Barbara and Keith Baron and their two kids moved into the Woodridge neighborhood last August, they had no idea that an unspeakably violent act would soon put on the map the beloved town they had just left behind.
The Barons had spent 11 years living in a small section of Newtown, Conn., known as Sandy Hook. Their children — Jacob, now a District 203 seventh-grader, and his fourth-grade sister, Rosie — attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six staff members on Dec. 14 before inflicting his final gunshot on himself as police closed in. Barbara worked as a special education aide in the same hallway where the killings took place.
When she asked the few neighbors she has met here so far to set lighted candles in their driveways Monday night, to honor those lost, it was a step in the healing process.
“As you can imagine, the full impact of this tragedy is felt in our hearts as the crippling waves of grief leave us in the wake that has taken the lives of friends and perfect little children,” Barbara wrote in a letter she sent to her new friends.
Barbara said Rosie spent the lunch hour for several days this week sequestered with a couple of her friends and their teacher. Jacob, who also has been struggling to process the devastating event, visited with his guidance counselor at school, and that brought comfort.
“He can’t articulate why he can’t focus in math, so it has helped him to go in there,” said Barbara, who grew up in this area.
Two of Jacob’s close friends, and one of Rosie’s, all lost little brothers in the shooting rampage. Barbara lost some friends as well.
“We have a personal connection with at least seven of the faces that were on TV,” she said.
Those included Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was shot when she ran into the hallway where Lanza had just blasted his way into the school. All of the accolades issued about the principal in the aftermath of the crime fell short, Barbara said.
“There really aren’t words to describe how wonderful she was. She lifted up everybody,” she said, adding that Hochsprung’s boldly brave reaction came as no surprise to her. “That was totally in character.”
Another of those killed, first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, had been a permanent substitute teacher before getting a classroom of her own. News reports related that Soto hid her students in cupboards and closets before facing the gunman and trying to divert his attention to the other end of the building, only to be shot.
“She was my son’s favorite substitute,” Barbara said.
Newtown, wrestling with the grief of so many funerals taking place too soon, is apparently as quaint as it appears on the news clips.
“It is just your quintessential New England town — very picturesque,” Barbara said. “You may not know everybody’s name, (but) you recognize people’s faces.”
She has spoken to some of her friends and former neighbors since the attack.
“It is just so heartwrenchingly overwhelming,” she said Friday morning. “I mean, today there were five funerals, and everybody is going to all of them if they can.”
The Barons plan to visit Newtown sometime in January, she said. In the meantime, they’re heartsick — and perhaps a little homesick, too.
“It’s just tugging at the heart strings, because we don’t have anyone here we can hug and feel this with,” Barbara said. “So the lighting of the candles and the [luminarias] will be just so helpful.”
In a message to fellow Seven Bridges residents, David Dornbos implored the neighbors to assemble and set out luminarias Monday.
“(Barbara) was good friends with the principal and other teachers that died, and they all lost children of friends, or siblings of friends,” Dornbos wrote. “She is going to contact those she knows (which is not many) to place luminarias in their driveways on Christmas Eve after dark to support those families affected by the tragedy. How wonderful would it be for them, if our entire community supported them?”
Other residents in the subdivision quickly took up the cause of spreading the word.
“I thought it was great that our neighborhood was joining together to support them and wanted to spread it to our entire school and get as many people as possible to support them so I posted on my Facebook page and asked other friends to spread the word,” neighbor Heidi Sampson said in an email, adding that some of the kids who attend school with Rosie had made luminarias for her driveway. “Even though some of the children don’t know about the tragedy, they all wanted to show their classmate how much they care.”
Another homeowner who will be taking part in the special holiday lighting is hopeful the gesture will have an even broader reach.
“I’m sure that if our neighborhoods want to show support,” Chelle Arends wrote in an email, “that all of Naperville may want to as well, being Naperville is just a BIG small town!”
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)