Planning “Night for Newtown” has been healing, those in the group agree. “It’s given me some semblance of comfort in the aftermath of the shootings,” says Eddie Small, a reporter at the Boston Courant. “It’s a chance to reconnect with people from home.”
None of the eight were best friends in Newtown, but they all knew each other. Will Jacob took Erin Clark to the senior prom. Jill Tanner and Laura Schroeder (now Oggeri) played tennis together in elementary school, and Laura and Pete dated in high school. Tanner and Sarah Salbu were co-captains of the NHS tennis team. Also in their class was Ryan Lanza, the older brother of the shooter, but none of them knew him well.
Of the “Newtown in Boston” group, only Pete Oggeri and Eddie Small attended Sandy Hook Elementary. The day after the shooting, Small wrote an essay for TheAtlantic.com headlined: “Did This Really Happen in My Elementary School?”
Of Newtown, he wrote: “It’s a town of about 27,000 people where things don’t stay open past 10 p.m. and a boy digging a big hole is a story worthy of the local paper’s front page.” He added: “I’m sad, confused, infuriated, and I want to do something about it. The problem is, I can’t think of anything that would actually matter.”
Pete Oggeri’s mother was working out with a Sandy Hook parent at a local gym when news of the shootings broke; no victims would be identified for hours. His mother, says Oggeri, was reassuring her frightened friend that all would be OK.
“My mother didn’t find out until the next day that her friend’s son was one of the victims,” says Oggeri, who graduated from Wentworth Institute of Technology and is assistant project engineer at Gilbane Inc.
At first, the Newtown High grads thought they’d do a small event, maybe at a local bar and charge a cover fee. But the project grew as they tapped into resources with deep pockets and good will. Poland Spring offered to underwrite the cost of renting the EMC Club and State Street Pavilion, which the Red Sox are providing at a discounted price. That’s where Jill Tanner’s dad came in; Rick Tanner is vice president of marketing for Nestle Water/Poland Spring.
Laura The event is drawing some Boston pols, including Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Tom Menino, Attorney General Martha Coakley, Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Therese Murray. Laura Oggeri’s father, Robert Schroeder, works for Schlumberger, a global oilfield services provider, which made a donation. The Boston band Flipside, which played at the Ogerris’ wedding, is donating its services; Sam Adams, the beer. Arbella Insurance Foundation is kicking in $9,000. Winston Flowers is donating the floral decorations; Jacquie Wheeler, class of 1977 at Newtown High, works in customer service.
Wheeler has contacted others in her class, and several plan to attend the fund-raiser. “It will be fun with 50-somethings and 20-somethings,” says Wheeler. “I think it’s great they’re doing this. It takes a lot to pull something like this together.”
Wheeler called Jean Fay; they graduated together. Fay, who is a special education aide in Amherst, is also going to the event, and has offered to help however she can. “It’s a hard reason to connect with people, but everyone wants to help,” says Fay
As for the younger generation, Will Jacob, who works at Deloitte consulting, promises that the night will be a fun, not somber, event. “We don’t just want Newtown to be a source of grief and sorrow,” says Jacob, 24, a Bowdoin graduate. “We want this event to be framed in a positive light, that Boston supports us, that somehow this will help heal us, that we will get through this.”
There’s excitement as they discuss the silent auction items, the programs, and who will speak at the event. On to the fun stuff: what to wear. Among the women, there’s talk of black dresses with accents of green and white—the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary.
Jill Tanner, who sent that first e-mail just over two months ago, is happy she did. “I think we’ve found great comfort in this, knowing that while we’re not home in Newtown, we’re not alone in Boston,” she says.
Bella English can be reached at email@example.com.