When Children Bear Witness to Terror

Many congregated in the student union, where, Matt Polazzo, a teacher of Western political thought and government, told me, “If you leaned over and looked out you could see two dead bodies on the ground.” Some of the students on the bridge shot video of what was going on with their phones and posted it on Snapchat, allowing the students inside to see harrowing images if they chose to look at them.

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The cellphone policy at Stuyvesant is draconian; on this day it was eased, and technology showed itself, again, as both danger and salvation. Despite the matter of the dark renderings that proliferated on social media, students were able to keep in touch with their families. “Everyone was scared but I was really proud of the community,” Mr. Polazzo said. “We all complain about cellphones, but during times of emergency they are obviously indispensable.”

Nearly all of the children at Stuyvesant were too young to remember Sept. 11, or, like the students at the neighboring schools, were born later. Many or most in the three schools affected do not come from parts of the city where violence is commonplace and gun crime, in particular, is both all too visible and audible. It is perhaps a testament to strict gun laws in New York and surrounding states that the attacker was carrying pellet and paintball guns rather than semiautomatics, but the students had no idea at the time whether the weaponry was real.

As it turned out, the week was a tortured one for children across the downtown school community, a period likely to imprint itself unsettlingly. Among the dead on Tuesday was Nicholas Cleves, a 2012 graduate of the Little Red and Elizabeth Irwin schools in Greenwich Village, where he had been working in information technology. The day after the attack, Elizabeth Lee, an assistant at the Grace Church School and a longtime parent there, was shot and killed near the front of the Cooper Square campus, allegedly by a man against whom she had an order of protection. In a letter to the Grace community, headmaster George P. Davison said that there were students in front of the high school when the incident occurred and that they might have seen the tragedy play out.

On Tuesday afternoon, for a punishingly long time it was next to impossible for many parents to make their way to their children’s schools around West Street. Ms. Montgomery-Forant had a lifeline in a friend who had arrived at her son’s school early to pick up a younger child. That friend wound up taking 13 children home. Many of the classmates ended up sitting together, holding hands and eating pizza.

When her son came home, Ms. Montgomery-Forant drew him a bath and made him a pot of peppermint tea. He went to sleep fitfully, next to her.

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Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/nyregion/children-lower-manhattan-terror-attack-saipov.html

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