As the news spread through the day Wednesday that a Stonington grandmother fatally shot her two young grandsons Tuesday night before killing herself, the sense of disbelief at the act seemed only to heighten. Many across the region came together on social media and news websites to share their feelings.
"I believe that the whole community grieves at these deaths, is truly wrestling with the horror of it all and feels a need to reach out to others in the community and the family in an attempt to right our world in an attempt to bring some peace and resolution," wrote New London resident and Patch blogger Kathleen Mitchell on The Day's website.
Just more than two months since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown left the state and the nation reeling, state police said 47-year-old Debra Denison of 12 Sherwood Drive, Stonington, picked up her two grandsons at their day care center on Tuesday. Denison was supposed to bring 2-year-old Alton Perry and 6-month-old Ashton Perry back to their parents' home in North Stonington for Alton's second birthday party. .
"It's official. Connecticut is the horrific crimes against children capital in the Northeast," tweeted Hartford Courant editorial cartoonist Bob Englehart.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Brenda, Jeremy and the rest of their family. May God wrap his arms around them and comfort them during this extremely difficult time," wrote Sally Baker on the Stonington-Mystic Patch Facebook page.
State Rep. Diana Urban (North Stonington, Stonington), didn’t check the news before she headed to bed on Tuesday night, but when she woke up at 5 a.m. on Wednesday and heard what had happened, she cried.
“Just tears," Urban said. "They were babies."
Quickly after the tears came anger for Urban, who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Children in the General Assembly.
“It’s an incredible tragedy,” Urban said. “There are too many of these tragedies.”
Urban’s response mirrors that of an entire community in mourning.
“My heart is broken for these parents,” Deb Carney Carlson wrote on the Stonington-Mystic Patch Facebook page. Others reached out via social media to the parents of the two children, Brenda and Jeremy Perry of North Stonington, sending thoughts, prayers and asking what they could to do help.
Brenda thanked everyone on Facebook for the prayers, but also asked people to be sensitive of what they wrote.
"Thank you for the prayers. I ask for you to also pray for my brother and sister. They lost three people last night its bitter-sweet to say but my mom was sick and we need to pray for jay an my sis please be cautious of what is said as they both are on my page..."
On Stonington-Mystic Patch, reader PJO offered this perspective: "My heart is breaking for the Perrys and the Denisons. They lost their beautiful boys... and Mrs. Perry lost her mother. What Mrs. Denison did was senseless and horrible. But, before the last hours of her life, it sounds like she was a very attentive grandmother, mother & wife...she loved them and they loved her. Which makes the grief so much sharper and more confusing. So please think of the grief-filled eyes reading these before you post."
Debra Denison has a son who is a student at Mystic Middle School. Superintendent Van Riley said Wednesday, "Counselors and mental health staff are on call in case students, families, or staff members need assistance. I offered to provide assistance to North Stonington but they have the resources they need.”
In an email Wednesday afternoon to Mystic Middle School parents, Principal Jennifer McCurdy wrote, "As many of you know, there was a tragic incident in our community last night that has received significant media attention. On behalf of the school community, I extend my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of those affected by this tragedy.
"Unfortunately, this incident has directly impacted the MMS community as one of our students lost a parent and two relatives in this tragedy. MMS staff and faculty were briefed this morning so they were ready to respond to students who had questions and/or who were upset. We have encouraged students who have expressed specific concerns or questions regarding this tragedy to speak to a parent/care giver and had mental health support available for any student needing immediate support.
"MMS mental health staff will continue to be available as needed in coming days. We encourage you to supervise and limit your child's access to media coverage including social media in an effort to monitor what details your child is exposed to related to this tragedy. As always, staff is here to support you and your children. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions."
Stonington First Selectman Ed Haberek Jr., said he called North Stonington First Selectman Nick Mullane Wednesday to offer his condolences.
“I was devastated,” Haberek said.
According to Haberek, Stonington counselors will be available to North Stonington if needed.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, a Democrat who lives in Stonington, said, "It's an awful tragedy, it's heartbreaking."
"These kinds of things, when they happen we all try to grasp what could lead someone to such desperate measures," Maynard said. "It's my understanding she suffered from mental illness and it underscores that we need to do more to provide mental health access to people and families struggling."
“I was floored,” Stonington resident Wendy Bury said. “I didn’t expect it to turn out that way.”
Editor's note: This article was updated at 6:27 p.m., Wednesday.