Jason Pierce: Thoughts on Newtown, From Another Connecticut School Shooting Survivor
Twenty-five miles from Newtown, Connecticut lies the town of Portland, where I grew up. December 11, 1985 was a date that had been lost in my mind until last week. That was the day a student named Floyd Warmsley entered my school, Portland Junior High School, and held students and teachers hostage for more than three hours before ultimately killing a janitor and shooting two others. I was 12 years old.
I remember hearing the pops of gunfire and a few shrieks. Seconds later, the assistant principal came over the loudspeaker telling the teachers to lock doors and huddle in corners. We didn’t know what was going on until Warmsley approached our classroom and tried to force entry by hitting the end of his gun against the door to either break the lock or the glass. Fortunately he was unsuccessful but seconds later he fired down the hallway several times killing David Bengston, a custodian. Hours later we were led out of the classroom by SWAT officers and I remember seeing four or five German shepherds tied to lockers in the hallway.
People have limits and it is impossible to know where one’s breaking point is. Earlier that day Warmsley, a 13-year-old eighth grader, came to school with no signs of rage or malicious intent. When he was told to take off his hat or face punishment, he walked home and got his dad’s Tec-9 semi-automatic handgun and returned with the weapon, wearing a trenchcoat. Eventually he was talked into throwing the gun out of a window. He was tried as a minor and received four years in a juvenile correction facility and was released after three years for good behavior.
I am now 40 years old and think I lead a normal life. Newtown was just the most horrific act imaginable. Hopefully those families and the affected communities can pull together and find the support and answers they need to carry on in life. It is impossible to “wipe the slate clean” of memories and sorrow, but hopefully community support and love will ease the pain. Investigators will uncover the triggers that led to this incident. Having experienced a school shooting myself as a child, I just have to ask: why are people allowed to own military-style assault weapons with clips that hold so many bullets?
Jason Pierce is a survivor of the 1985 Portland Junior High School shooting. He currently lives in East Hampton, Connecticut, where he owns a successful home painting and restoration business.