As national attention turned to the gun debate in the wake of last month’s brutal shooting deaths of 20 Newtown 5- and 6-year-olds and their teachers, some Wilton residents are hoping to increase awareness about violence issues much closer to home. Jennifer McNamara, the chairperson of Wilton’s Domestic Violence Task Force, has organized two meetings to take place today at the Wilton Library to focus on gun violence and the threat it poses to our schools.
The task force opted to plan two meetings—one at 10 a.m. and one at 7 p.m.—in order to encourage as many people to attend as possible.
McNamara said she was motivated not only by what happened at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, but also by two recent incidents of gun violence involving the Wilton community—the Grumman Avenue shooting, an alleged domestic altercation during which a rifle discharged, injuring both the husband and wife; and the shooting death of Cider Mill teacher Svetlana Bell, allegedly by her husband, Robert, after what was also reported to be a domestic dispute.
“I felt so disheartened—everything happened right after we did our big push for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. You do everything to get the information out there but it doesn’t seem to reach the people that need it,” McNamara said.
McNamara has invited representatives of Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV) to speak at the meetings: Lucy Davies and Harrison DeStefano, two Wilton residents who are organizing a local chapter of CAGV, will attend the morning meeting; Ron Pinciaro, CAGV’s executive director of the organization (and a Wilton resident) will represent the organization at the forum in the evening.
Dr. David Bernstein, a forensic psychologist, will also be speaking at Thursday’s morning presentation.
“Dr. Bernstein will be discussing threat assessment with a focus primarily on school violence, and red flag behaviors—that’s really a whole other component too, that we really have to change the way we deal with mental health,” McNamara said, adding that local officials will attend the meetings, including First Selectman Bill Brennan, police chief Michael Lombardo and State Representative Gail Lavielle.
McNamara went to a well-attended gun violence meeting in Westport the Monday following the Newtown shootings and felt that people now would be more attuned to learning more about the issues. “I was overwhelmed by the amount of people who showed up at that meeting—more than 200 people. I think we can get a lot of people in Wilton who would be very interested in now learning about gun violence, and it would be a good opportunity to build more support for the Task Force,” she said.
Some support that McNamara is hoping to build is with the Wilton school district. She said that school superintendent Dr. Gary Richards’s office has told her he won’t be able to attend either meeting Thursday but that the information would be passed on to other district administrators.
“I’m hopeful that the principals will come. Particularly for the kids. It’s been a really hard month having these conversations over and over, having to explain about Ms. Bell, and then having to explain about Sandy Hook. My hope that school administrators attend the meeting has to do with Dr. Bernstein’s presentation on threat assessment. I believe it will be very informative, especially in light of what just happened in Newtown,” she said.
Her goal is to focus attention on the impact violence of all kinds—domestic, gun, against women, in particular—has on the entire community.
“I do hope it raises a level of awareness, and that people really do say that it’s happening and it’s happening right in front of us—our neighbors are affected, the children our kids go to school with are affected. It’s not some problem ‘out there’ in some other city. Domestic violence is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you live, what color you are, what religion you are or how much money you have. It touches everybody. Who is helping those poor kids of the Grumman Avenue family? Who is helping them and their friends of what they know and what these children have lived through?"