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Bob Lind, Published January 29 2013

Neighbors: Newtown tragedy hits close to home for former North Dakota man

The horror of the Newtown, Conn., killings is hard enough to bear for us living in the Upper Midwest, but consider what it was like for someone living in a neighboring town.

Larry Aasen has appeared in this column before. He’s written about life when he was growing up in the Hillsboro, N.D., area. Now he and his wife live in Westport, Conn., just 25 miles from Newtown. So the murder of those children and others hit home.

Besides, his daughter had a hand in the reporting of the tragedy for national television.

Larry sent his story to his hometown newspaper, the Hillsboro Banner, which ran it in December. Larry also sent a copy to Neighbors. Here is part of what he wrote:

“We have never been greeted by a policeman at church.

“My wife, Martha, and I went to church (the Sunday after the shootings) in Westport and found a policeman standing by the door. If you were carrying a package, he asked politely if he might look into the package.

“That Sunday morning every church in Westport had a policeman at the door. On Monday morning and all day long, every school building in town had a police car parked in front. And all the flags hung at half-mast.

“In Westport Sunday afternoon, more than 600 people crowded into Westport’s Town Hall to hear the town’s clergy in a prayer vigil. More, unable to find room inside, stood in the rain on the Town Green.

“Westport and Newtown are approximately the same size: Westport, 27,000, and Newtown, 28,000. There are many connections. A number of Westporters have friends or relatives in Newtown. Karl Decker, a beloved, retired Westport teacher, (and) a skilled counselor, went to Newtown to help the community he loves.

“Having lived in Westport nearly 50 years, we have been very close to this event. So has our daughter, Susan Aasen, a writer-producer with Diane Sawyer on ABC-TV’s ‘World News Tonight.’ Susan worked on ABC’s coverage of this tragic story as she has on similar news stories.

“Westport was established in 1885 but there is no record of such a terrible event happening so close to our town. And in the years Martha and I have lived here, we have never seen such an outpouring of grief.

“Teddy bears, over 100 (as of December, when Larry wrote this), have already been collected for Newtown, along with piles of toys of all kinds.

“Two old cannons at the beach in Westport have become the drop-off place for flowers and sympathy cards and notes written by children in Westport.

“The Newtown killings will long be in the minds and hearts of all Americans,” Larry concludes.

Which, of course, is so true.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com

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