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People leave the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire House in tears after a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Friday morning, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. A man opened fire Friday inside two classrooms at the Connecticut elementary school where his mother was a teacher, killing 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in corners and closets and trembled helplessly to the sound of shots reverberating through the building.

Alex Von Kleydorff, Associated Press - Ap

One families' search shows the agony outside of school

  • Article by: JIM DWYER
  • New York Times
  • December 14, 2012 - 11:27 PM

NEWTOWN, CONN. - A few minutes before 10 Friday morning, Michelle Urbina was speaking with a customer at the small bank branch that she manages in Bethel, Conn., when her assistant broke in.

"What school does your daughter go to?"

"Sandy Hook," Urbina replied.

"There's been a shooting there," her assistant said.

As Urbina headed for the door, her phone began buzzing with texts from friends and other parents. It is a 20-minute drive from Bethel to the school. The landscape rolled by unseen; a friend from the other end of town spoke to her on her cellphone, relaying news from someone who was monitoring a police scanner. None of it told her what she wanted to know: What about Lenie, her 9-year-old daughter?

From another direction, Urbina's husband, Curtis, drove their SUV along winding roads toward the school. In the back seat, their 3-year-old son, Harry, was buckled into his car seat, wearing only his pajamas and a coat.

Just about five years ago, the Urbinas had moved here. He had grown up in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. She was raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. They fell in love with the peace of their friendly small town.

"We wanted the big back yard," Michelle Urbina said. "The fresh air. The country. The good schools. It's an idyllic small town -- not materialistic flashy people, just people who smile and say hello to you."

They knew everyone at Lenie's school, or so it seemed. Curtis Urbina, a stay-at-home dad, coaches youth wrestling in town, and was in the gym or cafeteria several times a week for practice. Just the night before, the Urbinas had gone to the fourth-grade holiday chorale celebration, overseen by Principal Dawn Hochsprung.

Even using back roads Friday morning, Curtis Urbina still had to park a quarter-mile away. He scooped his son under his arm and began running, little Harry giggling at the game of it.

"It's utter fear," he said. "Your heart stops. Your chest doesn't move. I'm a dad. What can I do? I'm helpless."

Michelle Urbina landed in a knot of traffic that forms on even the best of days in the little downtown. She peeled out of it and pulled into a restaurant lot, parking so fast that she hit a concrete bumper. The school was a good quarter-mile away, and up a hill. She ran, the heels of her work shoes drilling into her feet.

Near the school, Curtis Urbina saw the volunteer firefighters, who pointed him toward their firehouse. The students at Sandy Hook "are always doing fire drills," he said. "... The fire station is their gathering point. The kids know it."

It was packed; the little ones, many in tears, were being soothed by their teachers. Parents were already there, scouring the room for their children. Across the room, Curtis Urbina saw his daughter's fourth-grade teacher. There was Lenie. They ran into each other's arms, each sobbing.

"I had to put her down because other parents who weren't so nearby needed to know about their kids, and I wanted to get word to them," he said.

First, though, he sent a text to his wife.

"I have Lenie," it read.

Michelle Urbina chugged into the firehouse to reunite with her daughter. She let four friends know their children were safe. In the firehouse, friends were looking for their sons and daughters, so many getting the terrifying news that their children were "unaccounted for."

The Urbinas drove home together, and for a time, Michelle Urbina kept the TV off, but then decided it was futile. Her bosses at JPMorgan Chase called to offer to drive her anywhere to help. She was grateful, but her tasks were intensely local. Lenie, who was in gym class when the trouble started, told her parents that over the public address system, she had heard someone say, "Put your hands up," and then bang after bang.

Late in the afternoon, Curtis Urbina drove home a boy he had been taking care of while his parents awaited word on a brother who was unaccounted for. Walking back to his own house, he glanced at his wife, shook his head and said, "It's confirmed."

Michelle Urbina turned away. "I'm sleeping," she said. "I'm speaking to you, but I am surely asleep."

© 2014 Star Tribune