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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Newtown report's arrival a blessing for what's missing

It was a long time coming.

Eleven months and 11 days, to be exact.

I could probably break it down to the hours, too, but there’s no need to be quite that precise.

When the report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was released Nov. 25, there was a certain sense of relief that it was out at all.

Many around the country had been awaiting its release for months, complaining that it was taking quite that long to share the details of the incident that left 20 elementary school kids and six educators dead. At a second crime scene, the shooter’s mother also was slain in her bed.

The report’s 48 pages were finally shared on a day that was much like Dec. 14, 2012, when it was cold with a light snow falling.

It was the kind of day that makes you think about the holidays and all the things you have to accomplish before you get there.

Then, just like that ... tragedy, front and center.

The longer it took for the report to be released, the more I worried that it would come out in the days close to the anniversary.

“They wouldn’t be that cruel?” I’d think to myself.

They weren’t.

Officials said the parents of the young victims were shown the report before it was released and approved its contents.

That made me feel better as I paged through the detailed analysis of when things happened, how officials think they unfolded and some background on those involved.

Bits of information caught my attention:

Six feet tall and 112 pounds.

30.47 pounds of weapons and ammunition.

Five weapons involved at two crime scenes.

Twelve students survived in the two classrooms where the shootings occurred.

Asperger’s Syndrome.

What stood out in the report was how troubled shooter Adam Lanza was, and how his mother had gone out of her way to remove him from the world.

According to the report, it seems she didn’t do much to secure treatment for Lanza, only moving him from situation to situation until he couldn’t fit in any longer.

He was prescribed pills to deal with mental issues. He didn’t take them.

He moved from school to school to home-school.

He wouldn’t use door knobs, he wouldn’t stay in hotels. He only ate certain foods, he changed his clothes constantly.

He didn’t speak to his mother the last three months of their lives, communicating only by email to someone with whom he was sharing a home. Oh, and during that time, he never left the house.
As troubling as were those details, I was comforted by what wasn’t in the report.

No photos of the victims: For months, there was ongoing discussion about whether images of the youngsters would be released to the public. In interviews, victims’ family members said they championed their release, as a means to show what gun violence can do. I never believed they’d make a difference and was happy they weren’t in the packet. A photo of a 6-year-old with a bullet in his forehead won’t stop someone who wants to kill another human being. And, I’d rather think of the victims as they were in the photos families released — smiling and happy. After all, that’s what they’re doing in heaven.

No 9-1-1 tapes: There’s still a fight over this one, but I for one was glad they weren’t included. A judge last Tuesday ordered their release, but it still remains to be seen whether they'll actually be in the public domain. We know from the report that it took four minutes, 39 seconds for the first officer to arrive on the scene. Lanza killed himself within a minute of that officer’s arrival, 30 seconds after encountering an officer while running through a hallway in the school. I don't need to hear more than that.

The report makes clear several times that despite months of investigation, officials were not able to find a motive for the massacre.

And, for that, I’m grateful.

Knowing why Lanza drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and opened fire on dozens of innocent people will not bring them back or make the pain go away.

I, for one, think having it end this way leaves the focus right where it should be — on celebrating the lives of those who were lost that horrible day.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Not quite on target during class' visit to the firing range

I guess I should be happy my big paper guy didn’t have a face.

Had he been able to form expressions, he’d have indicated pain and the sense he’d been violated.

And, really, he was.

But, it was an accident.

I wasn’t aiming for his crotch with my first shot on range night during my Citizen Police Academy class at the Euclid Police Station.

No, I was aiming for the oval in the center of paper man’s chest.

So much for my career as a markswoman.

I could easily blame the temperature in the range. Located in the basement of the station, with concrete walls, floor and ceiling, it’s got that bitter cold you feel when you head to the lower levels of a house that’s not insulated.

When we first walked in, to an outer room with a window into the firing range, there was a lot of dancing around as we tried to warm up. Feet shifted, hands rubbed, teeth might even have chattered.

We picked up eye and ear protection in the control room and then headed into the range, where the shots were to be fired.

I sensed it was even a little colder when our class instructor, Euclid Police Capt. Scott Roller, began speaking and you could see his breath as he laid out our instructions.

He’d spent about an hour beforehand in the warmth of our classroom down the hall giving us an overview of the different types of weapons Euclid’s force uses. After ensuring they were ammo-free, Roller passed around an AR-15 and a shotgun, similar to the ones carried in the city’s police cars.

I’ve shot an AR-15 before, on a trip to an Ashtabula County range with now-retired News-Herald outdoors writer Jeffrey L. Frischkorn. During that New Year’s Day 2011 excursion, Korn also had let me try out his Bersa .380-caliber pistol.

The Glock, model 27, .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol that Roller dropped on the table in front of me was a different creature.

He said he gave me that one because I have “small hands.” He obviously has vision problems. But that’s another column for another day.

The weapons we used in the classroom weren’t necessarily Euclid’s service weapons. Mine was a smaller version of that handgun, a Glock, model 23, .40-semiautomatic pistol.

Before he handed them out, though, he showed us how to load them.

That requires a magazine.

The magazine holds the bullets and is inserted into the weapon.

The magazines we used had a capacity of 13 bullets.

In the classroom setting, which involved close quarters with others in the group, we loaded the magazines with plastic bullets.

Once we mastered loading the magazine, it was time to load Mr. Glock.

Roller didn’t accept a little tap of the magazine into the weapon. He wanted a forceful shove. Of course, it took me a few times to remember to shove rather than just try to make it click.

Then the trouble started.

Once the magazine’s in place, shooters need to pull back the slide (it sits on top; think every single police show or movie you’ve seen in recent years) to get a bullet into the chamber and ready for firing.

Remember how Roller gave me a specific weapon because of my dainty hands? Well, he later said my weapon also had a different spring in the slide mechanism than many the others were using. I couldn’t pull it back. I even tried to put my legs into it, hoping to generate enough force to get it moving.

“I obviously am not strong enough to shoot a handgun.”

Roller stepped over and pulled it back while laughing.

We then pulled the trigger, nothing happened (plastic bullet, remember?) and we all now knew a fraction of the basics of firing a weapon.

Next thing you know, we’re freezing while holding the real deal on the range.

“Shooters, with your shooting hand, pick up the gun and point it down range, with your finger off the trigger. With your non-shooting hand, insert the magazine. With your non-shooting hand, pull the slide slightly to the rear. You’ve got a live bullet in that gun. Get your fingers off the trigger.”

Standing there, hearing Roller shouting those instructions from inside our ear protection, it suddenly became rather serious.

I can’t quite duplicate the amount of space he left between the words “Get your fingers off the trigger.” But, keep stopping hard every time you say it to yourself. That’ll come close.

Real bullets. Inside guns held by people I’ve only known for a few weeks. Here’s that moment when you hope you haven’t really annoyed anyone in the class.

We go through various exercises to first see what it’s like to fire the weapon, to learn how it moves after it’s fired; then we’re to fire two shots into the big paper target guy’s chest and one into his head. Then, finally, we’re treated to targets that move, as though target guy is turning from side to side and around to face us, intending to simulate the reaction time police face in real-life situations.These last shots are supposed to go into his chest and head, too.

In about 35 rounds, I never got one shot into my guy’s head. But don’t forget I did get his crotch. So, at least he knows I care.

On my last shot, though, I managed something that I also pulled off when I was out on the range with Korn. I injured a part of my left thumb.

Mind you, I’m a righty. My left hand is there only for support.

But two years ago, I cut my thumb when I put it in the wrong place and the slide on the Bersa pistol came back and struck it.

This time, I somehow managed to break my thumb nail.

I figured it was time to go out on a low note, matching the one I’d started on.

So to speak.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In the pink as charity shopping season begins anew

It’s to the point that I should know the answer.

“What’s your favorite color?”


If it’s Clothe-A-Child, it’s gotta be pink.

Well, if you’re 8 years old and a girl.

And, when that’s the case, you just stand back, adjust your eyes and absorb all the shades of pink that exist in the world.

Or, in this case, Sears’ children’s department.

Ashley and I became fast friends when we went shopping recently at Great Lakes Mall, bonding over our hunt for the perfect snow boots and shoes at Payless ShoeSource.

She was still a little iffy on her lefts and her rights, so once in a while I’d have to point to the leg she needed to use.

At one point, she declared that a pair of shoes that was a half-size larger than her mom’s indicated size was a little too tight. I looked at the shoe in my hand and realized she had the other one on the wrong foot.

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

“It’s OK. You’ll get it eventually. Sometimes I still get confused.”

For 8-year-olds, there’s a big shoe question — Velcro or laces.

If I could, I’d take the Velcro route every time.

First, you get to annoy those around you with a noise that, for some, is akin to fingernails on a chalk board. Second, it’s a lot easier than making those loops and feeding them through other loops, then tying things.

Ashley decided on Velcro for both her snow boots and her dress shoes. I pity those who will be nearby when she puts on those snow boots, though. Those big pink jobs with the fuzzy pink interior have the biggest strips of Velcro I’ve ever seen, and make the longest scraping noise you’ve ever heard when you’re trying to open them up for foot insertion.

When it came time to pick out clothes, I was surprised to hear Ashley didn’t want any jeans.

“I don’t really like jeans,” she said.

She did, however, like the skinny pants that youngsters today have adopted as their personal style. You know the kind — it shows off their tiny little legs under big, roomy tops and sweatshirts.

Of course, the pink ones were the first in the shopping cart for trying on. I talked her into a spotted purple pair and a solid black pair, too.

They were all winners.

I pointed out that she could wear the black pants with any of the pink shirts she picked out. She also could wear the black sweater with the kitten on it with the purple pants or even the pink ones.

It’s all about the ensemble.

While she was doing her marathon try-on session, Ashley saw another young lady who was trying on clothing come out of her fitting room to show off a gorgeous white dress she planned to wear to an upcoming father-daughter dance.

That set us off to find the perfect holiday dress.

It wasn’t difficult. A tour around the dresses led us to a rack with pink dresses overlaid with black lace.
When we got back into the fitting room, I helped Ashley take it off the hanger, prepping it to try on.
“Ohhhh, I didn’t see that it had a belt, too. That’s so pretty!”

A few minutes later, Ashley opened the door and stepped out with a big smile on her face. Even though it hadn’t been zipped or tied in the back, she knew it was “THE ONE.”

It’s funny, each time I head out shopping with Clothe-A-Child, there’s a moment when the young one finds that special piece of clothing that makes it all worthwhile.

With the boys, sometimes it’s a hoodie with a neat design or a pair of pajamas with their favorite cartoon character. For the girls, though, inevitably it’s a dress.

It’s that princess, party, royalty thing that just makes a girl’s head spin. And, if she can do it in a puffy dress that spins just right as she twirls around, all the world becomes a fairy tale.

And, really, that’s how it should be for the kids we’re taking shopping through Clothe-A-Child.

Clothe-A-Child, in its 33rd year, operates year-round. The program provides warm clothes and shoes to needy children in Lake and Geauga counties. All money raised goes to serve the children helped by the program. The News-Herald covers all administrative costs. Through its first 32 years, Clothe-A-Child has raised $3,733,325.70 from area residents and friends who believe in this crucial program. To donate, send a check to The News-Herald, c/o Kim Tompkins, 7085 Mentor Ave., Willoughby OH 44095. Indicate how you’d like your name listed in the donor list printed in The News-Herald. Gifts received after Dec. 24 will be counted toward the 2014 campaign.

Friday, November 8, 2013

To shop, or not to shop: Lately, it's a big question

Get ready for some whining.

We’re starting today with a trip to my apartment in suburban Pittsburgh. I’ve awakened in the late morning after working the night before and realized that I’m pretty much stuck there for the day.

I can’t go shopping. I can’t really call anyone to do anything, because there’s nothing going on.

The good news is that I know I’ll get busy later when I head to work.

In the meantime, I figure it’s as good a time as any to do some cleaning, and even some laundry.

About this time I start feeling sorry for myself, because as I’m toiling away I realize I’m cleaning my toilet on Christmas Day 1995.

That was just one of many holidays I’ve worked over the years. Weekends and holidays come with the territory when you work in media.

I’m pretty sure I also worked Thanksgiving Day that year, because I remember the yearly meals the bosses would supply. I was single then, and there was no way I was going to cook a turkey for one, so it was nice to come in and dig into a traditional holiday dinner.

I’ve been thinking about those days a lot lately, as the topic of work on holidays has moved into the forefront with national retailers’ announcements of their store hours for Black Friday shopping.

The outrage began last year, when a slew of stores opened their doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.
It’s hard to call it Black Friday if it’s actually early Thursday evening.

This year, though, that ante’s been upped by Kmart, which announced this week its plans to open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning and then remain open for 41 consecutive hours.

So, shoppers, you, too, can head out shopping in Mentor as Mom or Aunt Sue are loading the turkey in the oven. Then, when Uncle Joe or Pop are fading into their tryptophan coma, you can run back as the regret sets in and you realize you really do need that $4 coffeemaker.

What? You’re not a Jet Black Thursday believer?

Apparently a lot of folks aren’t.

I’ve seen it all over Twitter and in countless Facebook posts.

Boycott! It’s crap! I’ll never shop at your stores again!

The outrage centers on store workers missing the special holiday moments with their families.

How funny that no one said a thing when I had to head in to work year after year, putting together the paper that got tossed on your doorstep on what’s now called Black Friday.

(I told you there’d be whining.)

The current sentiment seems to be that no matter how much we like sales, store clerks should be able to enjoy their family time, too.

But something we discussed here in the office this week is that no one’s defending the restaurant workers who are heading to work on the holiday to cook and deliver food to the tables of those who are heading out to eat for the holiday.

I worked in retail for a long time, and have eaten in a lot of restaurants, so I feel like it’s OK for me to say this — restaurant workers have a difficult job. They deserve some of that sympathy, too.

Those meals are heavy to carry around. I’m guessing that on the day when we’re supposed to be giving thanks, they’ll take a lot of abuse from customers. And, yes, they’d rather be at home, too.

But, they know, just like those who work in stores do, that the sales are important to their companies.

The unstable U.S. economy depends on moments in time like Black Friday, and its sister, Cyber Monday. (How much of your work time will you waste that day as you do your holiday shopping from your cubicle?)

Billions are spent at these stores over the course of the Thursday and Friday night of Thanksgiving.

The best advice I’ve seen handed out is that if these early-bird sales really bother you, just stay home. Stay off the stores’ websites. Don’t make those purchases they want you to make.

It’s much like the “Just Say No” of the anti-drug movement.

If you want to make a point, just don’t shop.

As many people are thrilled by the existence of Black Friday as those who dislike it.

We all know someone — the groups of friends bonding for a night of bargain hunting; or families heading out and then having breakfast the next morning once all the early-birds are over.

So, what are you going to do?

Is a good night’s sleep in the cards, or is that trinket you’ve been dreaming about just too good to pass up?

It’s up to you.

Either way you do it, I hope it’s enjoyable Thanksgiving.