It’s a community of 27,000 residents that most people outside of the Northeast had never heard of — until nine days ago, when the tragic deaths of 20 young children and seven adults permanently etched the town’s name into the nation’s collective memory.
In the difficult days since the shootings, the town has been in the news constantly. Through media coverage, we have met the mayor and police chief, seen the anguish on the residents’ faces, grieved with the parents of the slain children and mourned the loss of the brave teachers and administrators at the school where the shootings took place.
For now, anyway, Newtown, Conn., is a part of our daily thoughts.
Sadly, similar tragedies have thrust the names of other little-known towns into the nation’s collective conscience over the past three decades: San Ysidro, Calif.; Littleton, Colo.; Blacksburg, Va., home of Virginia Tech University — and Killeen.
True, Killeen was well known to the thousands of military members and their families who were stationed at Fort Hood during their Army careers since the post opened in 1942 as Camp Hood. But it wasn’t until the horrific massacre of 23 people at Killeen’s Luby’s Cafeteria in October 1991 that the city’s name became part of the national conscience.
Almost exactly 18 years later, in November 2009, the city again was the focus of national attention with the fatal shooting of 13 people and wounding of 32 others by a gunman at nearby Fort Hood.
In both instances, the nation mourned with us, prayed for us and offered support in ways both large and small.
The care and concern expressed by total strangers was both humbling and heartening.
As with the media focus on Newtown, people across the country came to know our community, meet its leaders — military and civilian — and appreciate our residents’ strength, as well as the depth of their caring for the victims and their families.
Having endured tragedy twice in less than 20 years, our community knows the importance of moving forward, but we also are mindful that it is a difficult, often painful journey.
It is a journey that now must be undertaken by the residents of Newtown, though for many of those closest to the victims, starting down that path must seem unbearable.
The Killeen community has, of necessity, taken that path twice. But in moving ahead we are ever cognizant of our loss. In the Killeen area’s two violent attacks, three dozen lives were taken — lives full of promise, suddenly gone. For the victims’ families and friends, their deaths left a hole that can never be filled.
Still, our community moves on, as it must, as the other devastated communities must.
As Newtown’s residents begin to walk the tortuous path from anguish to acceptance, we walk with them and hold them in our hearts.
That journey began Friday, when a group of local residents gathered at Lions Club Park to walk for 27 minutes — one for each Newtown school victim, plus the gunman’s slain mother — while wearing the school’s colors of green and white.
The walk was one of many such events carried out nationwide Friday, exactly a week after the tragedy that forever changed a small New England town.
Undoubtedly, Killeen has changed as well. Our twin tragedies remain an indelible stain on the city’s history — and sadly, we must live with that fact. Certainly, we can never undo the violence that claimed so many lives and forever altered the courses of so many others.
But in remembering our own pain and loss, we can offer support and send prayers to those who have been touched by this latest tragedy — and let them know we understand.
It may seem like a small thing, but it’s what residents of that once quiet, little-known Connecticut town may need most.