06/13/13 6:00am
06/13/2013 6:00 AM
ABC NEWS COURTESY PHOTO | A sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of Friday's mass school shooting that left 26 people dead, including the suspected shooter.

ABC NEWS COURTESY PHOTO | A sign welcoming visitors to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

To the editor:

It’s been six months since 20 first-graders and six teachers were shot to death in Newtown, Conn. While there’s nothing we can do to guarantee a tragedy like this will not happen again, Congress decided to do nothing. In a few moments 26 died and our Congress decides to do nothing?

According to a tally of gun deaths from Slate, the number of people killed since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary is now 4,499. The number of U.S. armed forces killed during the Iraq war was 4,409, according to the Defense Department.

Those who support the political idea that anyone and everyone should have unlimited access to as much firepower as they want have had their way. There’s something that can be done and the great majority of us know it. Let’s pass laws that will save the lives of schoolkids and countless others.

In another part of the country, it’s been 24 days since 10 children died in their school in Moore, Okla., from a tornado. After the horror, Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma was asked, “Shouldn’t schools have storm shelters?” The governor refused to say it was time to get these school shelters built. The most she would say was, “We will have a discussion.”

Gov. Fallin is serving the political idea that government requirements to prevent the deaths of schoolchildren are wrong. Everyone knows that school storm shelters save lives and it’s the job of government to do it.

Let’s pass the laws that will save our kids.

Mort Cogen, Cutchogue

To read more letters to the editor, pick up a copy of this week’s Suffolk Times or click on the E-Paper.

05/08/2013 6:00 PM
At Tuesday's school board meeting, Shoreham-Wading River High School students unveiled a mural they will send to Newtown, CT.

RACHEL YOUNG PHOTO | At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Shoreham-Wading River High School students unveiled a mural they will send to Newtown, Conn.

Less than six months after December’s deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., art students at Shoreham-Wading River High School are preparing to send a large mural there that they spent weeks creating.

The mural, which was unveiled at Tuesday evening’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, was commissioned by high school principal Dan Holtzman and supervised by art teacher Shannon Lustig. It will be shipped to the Connecticut town at a future date.

“Mr. Holtzman wanted to do the mural so he came to me and asked if I was interested in participating,” Ms. Lustig said. “He wanted something uplifting and happy. I brought it to the students’ attention and we decided we wanted to do a landscape.”

The finished project features a woodland scene with a meadow and the words “Hope. Love. Dream.” Ms. Lustig’s students also painted 26 butterflies to represent the 20 children and 6 adults who were killed in the shooting.

Ms. Lustig, 33, said that the eight students who worked on the project donated “countless hours” to create the mural, which was started after winter recess and completed last week. She said the Home Depot in Coram donated about $150 in supplies for the project.

“This mural represents respect and admiration for the 26 people that were prematurely taken from this earth in Newtown on December 14, 2012,” Ms. Lustig said.

ryoung@timesreview.com

04/13/13 7:00am
04/13/2013 7:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda's memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda’s memorial they created in December to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

Yes, it’s true: I’m a crybaby. I cry at movies (“Shane,” “Cast Away,” etc.), I cried for two weeks straight as an 11-year-old at summer camp and I cried again Sunday night as we were watching “60 Minutes.”

But I wasn’t the only one crying Sunday night. Many of those being interviewed by CBS News correspondent Scott Pelley were in tears, too. And for good reason.

They were the parents and loved ones of the students and teachers who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012.

You remember Sandy Hook, don’t you? That’s no wisecrack; it’s a legitimate question as the days, weeks and months begin to pile up in the wake of yet another mass shooting for which our nation has become so well known.

And, as one of the Newtown parents so eloquently stated Sunday night, it will happen again, because it always happens again, particularly if the National Rifle Association has anything to say about it.

At this point in the discussion, I would like to yield the floor to my fellow columnist, Carl Hiaasen of the Miami (Fla.) Herald, who recently took to task the NRA in general, and its executive director, Wayne LaPierre, in particular, as follows:

“LaPierre insists that background checks will lead to a ‘national gun registry,’ which will then lead to mass confiscation of firearms by the government.

“Oh sure. The same government that can’t afford to deliver mail on Saturdays is poised to send armed agents to every single house in the country to search for weapons.

“The notion is ridiculous, and Wayne’s well aware of it. The NRA isn’t aiming for the mainstream support. The fringe is what they’re after — the spooked-out guys who were lining up to buy assault rifles after the mass shooting in Newtown.”

I know from reader comments on my previous columns in favor of more stringent gun control measures that I stand accused of belaboring the subject. And to that charge I plead guilty, and furthermore vow to keep writing about guns until we as a nation wake up to these inescapable truths:

• No one should be allowed to purchase a gun without undergoing a background check.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an assault rifle.

• No one but military or law enforcement personnel should be allowed to have an ammunition clip that holds more than 10 rounds.

Period.

Word this week out of Washington is that an increasing number of our esteemed members of Congress are beginning to lose whatever resolve they may have had for meaningful gun control reform immediately following the Newtown tragedy. Apparently the NRA and Americans’ collective short memories are conspiring to prolong, once again, our national shame.

And to that reality I can think of no more powerful rejoinder than these exact words of Newtown parent David Wheeler on “60 Minutes” Sunday night:

“I would like every parent in this country — that’s 150 million people. I would like them to look in the mirror. And that’s not a figure of speech, Scott. I mean, literally, find a mirror in your house and look in it and look in your eyes and say, ‘This will never happen to me. This will never happen in my school. This will never happen in my community.’ And see if you actually believe that. And if there is a shadow, the slightest shadow of doubt about what you’ve said, think about what you can do to change that in your house, in your community, in your school, in your country, because we have an obligation to our children to do this for them. It’s gonna happen again. It is going to happen again. And every time, you know, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s town. It’s somebody else’s community until one day you wake up and it’s not.”

tgustavson@timesreview.com

01/11/13 4:50pm

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Parent and co-president of SWR SEPTA Mike Sanchez speaks at Thursday night’s meeting.

The question of whether to arm security guards at Shoreham-Wading River schools was the main topic of discussion at a special school board meeting Thursday night in the high school library.

Residents, administrators and faculty members were all called to the open forum to  share ideas on how to improve district security in the district in the wake of last month’s Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The meeting, attended by nearly 50 residents and which lasted two hours, began with an update on security changes made in the district.

Superintendent Steven Cohen told those in attendance there are unarmed security guards in every school in the district who all have previous security or law enforcement experience and are certified by the state.

The district is in the process of hiring two more security guards, he added. Four of the six guards are full-time employees while the remaining two are part-timers.

Since the shooting, and immediate concerns that some parents raised at a school board meeting that followed, buzzer systems, security cameras and auto-locking doors have been installed at all district elementary schools, Mr. Cohen said. The middle school and high school doors automatically lock, but do not have buzzer systems or cameras yet, officials said. Those are in the process of being purchased and installed.

Door monitors are working at each school to check who comes in and out of the building, Mr. Cohen said.

The money for the security upgrades is coming out of reallocated funds from the district’s maintenance operating budget, said assistant superintendent of finance Glenn Arcuri.

Mr. Cohen said the district will look into installing security vestibules at local schools over the summer.

But while district residents praised the board for taking steps to improve safety at district schools, many had further concerns and suggestions for the board to look into.

Several parents expressed concern that the door monitors were not doing their jobs correctly, as some parents and friends claimed they were let recently into the school immediately without having their identification checked.

School board president William McGrath said the district would work on creating a uniform policy for all door guards to follow, but stressed that parents who see security issues should immediately tell the school principal so they can address the problem.

Beyond security measures, Mr. McGrath said if a parent or student notices something strange or unusual about the behavior of another individual, notify school officials.

“You walk into the school building, no one asks for your ID, say something,” he said. “The time for complacency has passed.”

Dawn Esser, a Shoreham-Wading River graduate and district mother, expressed concerned about unlocked doors and lax security at before- and after-care programs.

The superintendent said he knew of perceived holes in security and said officials were working on how to hire the additional four or five full-time security officers to staff the school before and after the regular school day.

“We have not worked out with the board how many security guards we should be hiring right now,” Mr.. Cohen said, “and that’s one of the details that has to be worked out.”

Chris Zukowski, a district resident and wife of school board member John Zukowski, said the limitations of the state’s tax levy cap will make it difficult for school officials to spend significant money on security, even though many residents have stated they would support the changes.

But the most discussed topic at the meeting was the school’s security guards and whether or not they should be armed. Many parents said they agreed with suggestions made by the National Rifle Association that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“It may offend people, but it’s the only thing that’s going to stop an armed intruder,” said Wading River resident Nikko Lavey. Mr. Lavey said the board should not be concerned with cost, since the need is so essential.

The discussion came just hours after news reports that a student at a California high school shot another student with a shotgun. The student was reportedly taken into custody after a “campus supervisor” convinced the teenager to put his gun down.

Other parents agreed with Mr. Lavey that armed security, whether those are district employees, volunteers or on-duty police officers, are the answer.

“With every bad guy, [you] need a good guy with a gun,” said Toni Morell, a Wading River parent who pushed for having police patrol the district’s campuses. “I’m sorry, but I feel as though having a security guard there would be wonderful, but in all truthfulness unless there is someone armed there I still do not feel safe.”

Other parents said they would oppose putting armed guards in district schools, as did Emma Stoll, a Shoreham-Wading River High School senior and non-voting member of the school board.

She would feel less safe with an armed security guard in the school, she said.

“I know some parents are saying that they would feel more safe, but they’re not the ones in the school.” Ms. Stoll said. “I don’t think that bringing more guns into the school is going to make me more safe.”

Mike Sanchez, a co-president of the SWR Special Education Parent Teacher Association and police officer, said he would happy to speak to students about gun safety to calm their fears of having armed officers in the school.

Communication between parents, students and teachers about safety will be the key to protecting SWR schools, Mr. Sanchez said.

Board members agreed the issue of armed security will need to be addressed.

The topic of armed security or police would likely be brought up at another security open forum when government and police representatives could attend, officials said.

But some issues, such as hiring more town or county police officers to patrol the area, are beyond what the school board can do, Mr. McGrath said, urging residents to come together and speak out.

“The things that are beyond the scope of what we can do is when we all as citizens of our town, our county, and our state need to let others know that it has to go beyond just our problem,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

12/21/12 5:00pm
12/21/2012 5:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czaluda's memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joe and Roe Czulada’s memorial to the Sandy Hook victims on their front lawn on Sunrise Avenue in Riverhead.

While most Americans watched or listened to the horror unfold in Connecticut last week and the days after the Newtown shootings, one Riverhead couple went outside and got to work.

Joe and Roe Czulada, who raised four children in their home on Sunrise Avenue, lost one of those children 18 years ago when a drunken boater killed their daughter Jill while she was swimming in Flanders Bay.

Jill was just 21 years old.

“She would have been 40 years old on Tuesday,” Ms. Czulada said this week. “On Monday I was listening to one mother talk about what happened in Connecticut and I just cried and told my husband, ‘We have to do something.’”

What they did Thursday was erect a memorial for the “Newtown Angels” on their front lawn.

There, 27 crosses with names written across them sit in rows within a flower box on the lawn, 26 of them for the victims of the Newtown massacre. One cross is for Jill.

Next to the memorial is a lit-up angel whose wings electronically flutter.

“We’re just as sad as everybody in the world,” Ms. Czulada said. “But until you walk in their shoes, you don’t know what it’s like to lose your child.”

The memorial is meant to show “Riverhead cares,” Ms. Czulada said.

She’s learned from experience that while the pain can be eased, it won’t ever go away.

“There is no closure,” she said of the lingering thoughts of Jill, adding that she prefers it that way.

“I don’t want there to be closure,” she said. “I don’t want to forget her.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com