Derry man near scene of US shooting

Derry man Ronan O'Leary, who lives and works in Connecticut, pictured with his daughter Kiera.
Derry man Ronan O'Leary, who lives and works in Connecticut, pictured with his daughter Kiera.

A Derry man who lives just miles away from the scene of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, has spoken of his shock at the brutal killings.

Ronan O’Leary lives in the town of Westbury with his wife Amy and daughters Erin and Kiera, less than 40 minutes from where the shooting spree took place. The former St Columb’s College pupil says everyone in the close knit community has been stunned by the murders, which he described as “utterly horrific.”

As news of the killings broke internationally, Ronan was immediately contacted by his mother and stepfather Philomena and Eamonn MacDermott, from De Burgh Terrace in the city, who were concerned for his safety.

“It’s close to home for my wife and I who are both teachers and the scene is literally close to home because it’s just miles from where we live,” Mr. O’Leary said, speaking hours after gunman Adam Lanza executed his victims in one of the worst school shootings America has ever seen.

The Derry man says the killings have made him question what he would do if a gun was brought into a classroom of the High School where he works.

He and his wife are both teachers in the area where they live, just 19 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School. “It makes it very, very real,” he told the Sunday Journal.

“I was at school on Friday as news started to filter through. I heard initially from one of the other teachers around 11:00am, at first we’d heard that one child had died but more information came through and as the school day was ending we realised the severity of all. The only way I can describe how we felt was just absolutely shocked. I was due to coach a basketball game here this evening, but pretty much everything in the area has been called off. It’s just awful.

“Now I’m looking around my classroom thinking, what do I do if that happens to me? My wife is a kindergarten teacher, working with children the same age as those who were killed, I thought about what she would do in that situation. It’s a very scary thought.”

Mr O’Leary described the availability of guns in America as “crazy.”

“Until something changes here, things like this will keep happening,” he said. “ But The National Rifle Association (NRA) are so huge and so influential. They just love their guns here, it’s part of their constitution and even in the wake of what’s happened in Newtown I’ve seen some teachers on Facebook saying that teachers now need to be armed. It’s crazy.”

The local man will return to Derry with his wife Amy and children Erin and Kiera to spend Christmas with his family next week.

Ahead of that he’ll face his classes at Sacred Heart High School in Connecticut tomorrow morning where he says safety reviews will probably take place.

“I fully expect that our administrators will be going over our crisis management and lockdown procedures after what’s happened and no doubt people will be asking if there should be a police officer at the school door. It’s just madness.”

The father of two said it was painful to contemplate what had happened given that his daughter Erin is due to start Kindergarten next year.

“You just come home and hug them a wee bit tighter after something like this,” he said.