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Dunblane community shares hard won experience

5/28/1998 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Kathleen LaCamera*

DUNBLANE, Scotland (UMNS)-- Every time a fatal school shooting occurs in places like Springfield, Ore., or Jonesboro, Ark., the residents of Dunblane experience heartache all over again.

It happened to them, just over two years ago.

When Eileen Harrild heard the report that two boys had opened fire on students and teachers in Jonesboro, for example, "my heart literally missed a beat. I thought, `school children and a teacher dead, it's the same scenario.' My heart just wept for them."

A physical education teacher and mother of three, Harrild was badly injured by a gunman who walked into the gymnasium of Dunblane Primary [Elementary] School where she and two other teachers were supervising a group of 5 and 6 year olds. He fired first at the teachers, then turned on the 30 children.

In a few seconds, he had fired 105 rounds of ammunition, killing a teacher and 16 children. Many of the others were badly injured. The gunman then shot himself. No one knows what prompted his attack. It has been speculated that he had planned to walk in on a school assembly but miscalculated the time.

But Harrild and parents like Martyn Dunn - whose five-year-old daughter Charlotte died in the shooting - turned their grief into a powerful tool to help prevent such tragedies from reoccurring. They became part of the Snow Drop Campaign, which successfully lobbied Parliament to outlaw all handguns in Britain.

Both agreed that success of the ban was a necessary part of their recovery. They also said they want people in the United States to know that ordinary people who are concerned about access to guns can demand a change.

"I've seen what these guns can do," Harrild said. "They are not play things, they are not toys, they are not sporting items. They are weapons of destruction."

Dunn's message is even clearer: "If I were going to say one thing to the American public, I would say that you've got to stop and think. Start gun control before it's too late."

Today, Harrild has only partial use of her arm, limiting her abilities to perform her job. She is worried about the children and parents who continue to deal with devastating physical injuries that have left them psychologically and spiritually scared as well.

But the cards and messages of support from ordinary people all over the world have helped her recovery.

In the town of Sterling, at the Methodist Church closest to Dunblane, the Rev. William Seymour said he received donations from Methodists in the United States and elsewhere in response to the massacre. The money eventually was passed on to Scottish Churches House, an ecumenical center in Dunblane.

"When social services are gone, the church can still provide a place where people can meet and comfort one another," Seymour added.

Parents still meet weekly at Scottish Churches House. The group is so important to Dunn that even after being relocated by his employer, he quit his job to return to Dunblane.

He also took comfort in letters from strangers. "It makes a difference if people write…it helps to see that people do care, do think about you all over the world."

In March, the people of Dunblane dedicated a memorial garden to the 16 children and teacher murdered at the school. The garden is set in a gentle sloping hillside with Scottish mountains in the distance. Each of the graves are marked with small toys and pinwheels that move with the
breeze. Many are decorated with tiny American flags and Mickey Mouse figures recalling family trips to Disney World. Charlotte Dunn loved teddy bears and her grave is marked with a stone in the shape of a panda.

Dunn hopes that the pain that he, Harrild and the people in places like Jonesboro and Springfield have faced can serve as a catalyst to take guns out of commission for good and "stop this pointless shooting of children."

Harrild also wants other parents who have suffered such tragedies to know that "everybody here is feeling for them, rooting for them, praying for them that they will be able to pick of the pieces of their lives and try to move forward.

"That's a very easy thing to say," she said, "but it's very hard to do."
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*LaCamera is a UMNS correspondent based in England.

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