Students from New Town, N.D., share more than a similar name with Newtown, Conn. They, too, faced heartbreaking loss this year with the shooting deaths of classmates.
To send their condolences, North Dakota art students are sending handmade sympathy cards to the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 students and six adults were gunned down in a rampage last week.
"We can feel their pain," Principal John Gartner, the principal of New Town High School, told the Bismarck Tribune (http://bit.ly/V9sUHV ).
In November, New Town endured its own loss when a gunman killed a woman and three of her grandchildren after opening fire inside of a home on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. A fourth grandchild escaped injury by feigning death beneath the body of his brother.
The FBI continues to investigate the Nov. 18 deaths of Benjamin Schuster, 13, Julia Schuster, 10 and Luke Schuster, 6, as well as their grandmother, Martha Johnson. It was a jolting crime in a state that has relatively few slayings. In 2011, North Dakota had 24 murders or non-negligent homicides, according to the FBI. The year before, there were just 10.
The idea for New Town to send cards to Newtown began with Gartner. Students in the high school's art classes are hand-lettering the cards, beginning by penciling the school's message of condolence: "From the students of New Town, North Dakota, to the grieving students of Newtown, Conn.: We too have lost those we love at our school recently. We pray for your students and teachers."
River Dye, a junior, on Wednesday penciled his card in a font he created and had practiced in his notebooks.
"It's too much. Little kids like that shouldn't be dying," he said. The cards would hopefully let Sandy Hook students know that others have endured — and survived — loss.
The gunman in the Sandy Hook shooting has been identified by police as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who killed himself as emergency responders began arriving. The shooter in the New Town case hasn't been named, though a man described as a person of interest — 21-year-old Kalcie Eagle — killed himself as police tried to question him hours later.
New Town art teacher Sherry Locken said the assignment was emotionally challenging for the students. The cards were to be passed around for students to sign and put in the mail Friday.
Students said that they hope the message gets through to those grieving in Newtown.
"I hope they read it," said sophomore Kelsey Lewis. "We know they're going through hard times."