Newtown school shooting: Dunblane looks back as Newtown mourns

The stained glass window at Holy Family Church in Dunblane in memory of the victims of the 1996 shooting
The stained glass window at Holy Family Church in Dunblane in memory of the victims of the 1996 shooting
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THERE is going to be a black cloud over this area forever,” said Craig Ansman, as he led his four-year-old daughter from a nearby nursery in Newtown, Connecticut, after Friday’s massacre. “It will never go away.” In Dunblane yesterday, a town now twinned by atrocity with Newtown, a ­candle was lit in recognition of a sorrow and a black cloud shared.

At the Dunblane Centre, the community space built by funds raised in the aftermath of the 1996 shooting which killed 16 primary one pupils and their teacher, a dance class of pirouetting infants was taking place. But on the centre’s Facebook page, visible by the miracle of the internet 3,000 miles away in Connecticut, was a lit candle made of coloured pixels rather than wax but one that burns with the intensity of painful recognition.

Underneath was the following message: “Words cannot adequately express how all of us at the Dunblane Centre feel about the horrors of today’s terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. We are part of a community which unfortunately understands what the people of Newtown are likely to be feeling right now, and we offer our heartfelt sympathies and love to them all. Like those lost in Dunblane in 1996, they will be forever remembered.”

For the residents of the small Scottish town, the horrific events in America have brought back bad memories of killer Thomas Hamilton, and how the act of a single March morning could destroy so many lives and leave a town’s name synonymous with mass murder.

On the High Street, in menswear store D A Hunter, the proprietor Alexander Hunter said: “What can you say? It is the most terrible thing. You heard it was 10 children, then 12 and now it is 20. Awful. Just awful. And the people here that are touched by it all those years ago will be awfully upset.”

Outside on the sloping street that runs down from the Cathedral, shoppers are preparing for Christmas, ordering turkeys at the two family-run butchers, but those happy to stop and talk explain that what happened across the Atlantic is on their minds.

“You can’t help but think back to what happened here,” said one man, who did not wish to give his name. “There have been other school shootings but this is the first since Dunblane, where the victims were primary school pupils. People will ask why? But there won’t be an answer, just as there wasn’t one here.”

When Lynne Davidson, 33, first read the news of the Newtown massacre on Facebook on Friday night, all she could think about was her son Blair, who informs Scotland on Sunday that he is “four-and-a-half”. Standing on the High Street while Blair tugs at her hand, Lynne explains that her son started in primary one at Dunblane Primary School in the autumn and that she thinks of what happened every time she drops him off.

“What happened here will never be forgotten, but I think everyone with kids will be thinking about those poor ­parents in America. You think, ‘Oh no, not another one.’ ”

Then she heads off, tugged by Blair in the direction of the town’s Christmas tree, a huge fir decorated with blue, red and green presents tied up with red bows.

Residents agree that a black cloud does remain over Dunblane but that doesn’t mean it won’t clear at times to let in the sunshine.

In the window of the local optometrist is an almost life-size cardboard cut-out of Andy Murray, a pupil that fateful day, but one who has grown up to help re-brand the town as the home of an Olympic gold medal winner and the greatest British tennis player for 70 years. This afternoon, two visitors to the town were posing for pictures by the golden post box redecorated by the Royal Mail in recognition of Murray’s Olympic success.

There was no one up at the small garden of remembrance at Dunblane Primary, built on the site of the gym, later demolished, where the shootings took place on 13 March 1996. And nor would you expect there to be on a cold, drizzly Saturday afternoon. The flowering cherry trees are now bare twigs with a discarded pair of pink mittens wedged at their base. The wooden seats, which during the summer would be a pleasant place to sit, were damp to the touch.

Passing by was Alison MacDonald, 33, pushing her daughter in a stroller. She thinks the black cloud remains over Dunblane, and says: “When you tell people where you come from, unless they happen to have been on holiday nearby and have happy memories of the area, everyone goes, ‘Oh’. They don’t have to say anything else.”