When Sunny Gupta first saw a breaking news alert last Friday about a school shooting in between his patient visits at the Rothman Institute, he was dismayed. Within an hour, he would learn the horrific tragedy was unfolding in his hometown of Newtown, Connecticut, where gunman Adam Lanza mercilessly killed 27 people, 20 of whom were young children.
Gupta was shocked. Nauseated. It was the last place on Earth he would expect violence of that magnitude, committed by one of the town’s own residents. Now he fears the world will only associate Newtown with unspeakable horror.
“Newtown is my heart,” he exclaimed. “The town will never be the same again.”
News that hits close to home
Gupta does not personally know any of the victims, but says Newtown is such a close-knit community that most everyone is connected within one degree of separation. His parents, who still reside in Newtown, live three miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting took place.
His sister, Monika, is friends with the parents of 6-year-old Jessica Rekos, who was killed. His mother, a former special needs educator, had worked with another young victim. One of his friends from high school had been well acquainted with Nancy Lanza, the shooter’s mother.
Reports from his family tell of a town enveloped in communal grief. Gupta says his mother is struggling with the knowledge that a child whose potential she once so lovingly helped to nurture, is now gone.
Gupta says he’s not typically an emotional guy, but found himself breaking down in tears several times over the weekend.
“There are no words,” he said.
A tarnished reputation?
Gupta says he is deeply saddened to know his beloved hometown is being associated with atrocity in countless news stories. He and many of his friends have found solace in sharing positive memories of Newtown through Facebook.
Gupta moved with his family from Puerto Rico to Newtown in 1987 when his father was transferred to Wilton, Connecticut for business. Though it was a more than 45-minute commute to Wilton, Gupta’s parents chose Newtown for the positive reputation of its schools.
Newtown “is an ideal place to raise a family,” Gupta noted.
The town, with a population of 27,000, is quiet and unremarkable. So much so that Gupta says it was surreal to watch the President of the United States making remarks in his old high school auditorium.
“It’s the kind of town you almost hope and expect he’s never heard of. There’s no reason he should know about this town,” he commented.
Newtown does not have much to offer its teens and twenty-somethings, Gupta conceded. For those who remain and those who return for visits, the town hall is a local hot spot where people can enjoy a movie for only two dollars. Gupta says Newtown’s unassuming, low-key charm perfectly suits his own personality. He remained in town for three years after graduating college, but ultimately found a better opportunity to work in sports medicine in Philadelphia.
It’s been 13 years since Gupta moved from his hometown. He now resides in Roxborough, but visits Newtown every six weeks or so. He says he would love to move back sometime in the future.
While violence has not touched his life here, the constant expectation that it could is something Gupta says is part of daily life in a city like Philadelphia. Before last Friday, gun violence was something unforeseen in a place like Newtown. “It hits you that much harder. It’s like a sucker punch,” he said.
Though there is no way for Gupta to erase last week’s event from Newtown’s history, he fervently hopes that outsiders and residents will not view Newtown “as just a place where a massacre happened.”
To those who live there, including those like Gupta who reside there in spirit, Newtown means so much more than one awful moment in time. He hopes people will see the beauty in the community and its people.
Newtown is still where Gupta hopes to someday raise his own family.
He says he’s encouraged by President Obama’s visit and feels the tragedy has struck a raw nerve for the public. Gupta is hopeful that this time the national dialogue on gun violence will help create changes which could prevent another mass shooting.
Right now, he hopes the world will continue to pray for Newtown’s residents, particularly the families and friends of victims. “They’re going to need a lot of support,” he said.