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School shooting survivors arrive in Newtown

CASEY McNERTHNE, Connecticut Post
Updated 8:48 am, Friday, December 21, 2012
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When members of Minnesota's Red Lake Indian Reservation received a plaque from Columbine High School massacre survivors, they hoped the gift would stay with them.

The Columbine survivors presented it to them in 2005, after people at Red Lake – including five students – were gunned down in what was then the second most-deadly school shooting.

We hope you never pass this on, the Columbine survivors told them, but if a tragedy like this happens again, go help heal the community where it does.

Late Thursday morning, four survivors from the Red Lake massacre arrived in Newtown with that plaque, which they planned to give students at the town's middle school Thursday night. The survivors were among 13 Red Lake students and even more administrators who traveled to help those affected by the Dec. 14 Newtown shooting spree that left 20 children dead.

"They've just traveled almost 30 hours driving cross-country in the middle of all this weather to get out here and to be with the families," coordinator Stephanie Hope Smith said in front of Newtown's Edmond Town Hall.

The Columbine students who presented the plaque to Red Lake survivors in 2005 had received it from survivors of a previous school shooting.

Along with the plaque, the former Red Lake students planned to give Newtown students their tribal flags, signed by tribal children, and planned to offer their traditional prayers. They hoped the gifts would be physical reminders that those who survived a similar tragedy were praying for them.

The students know heartbreak and loss in a way only those in Newtown, Columbine, and few others know, their advisers said.

Thursday afternoon, an elementary-age Red Lake group, The Little Thunderbirds, sang traditional Native American songs to honor the Newtown community.

The group has support "from all over Indian country," Hope Smith said. Red Lake Reservation, which covers roughly 1,200 square miles in parts of nine Minnesota counties, sponsored their cars. The Minneapolis American Indian Center had a sendoff ceremony. The Dakota 38 Memorial Ride members – a group remembering a mass execution in 1862 – sent prayer ties.

The group didn't want to discuss its ceremony with Newtown students Thursday night, but planned to have a media briefing at 7 a.m. Thursday morning.

As the Red Lake group played traditional drum songs in front of Edmond Town Hall – the space on Newtown's Main Street where a memorial kept growing – Beth Howard of Eldon, Iowa, was handing out free slices of apple pie.

Pie is always shared, said Howard, who traveled across several states to share her desserts with Newtown residents. Hopefully, like the Red Lake prayers and plaque, it will help bring healing.

"It's the outpouring of love from us," Howard said. "All the volunteers what want to help feed the soul."

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