“Where Angels Play:” Emilie’s Shady Spot

emilie parker playground 2
Children play as playground opens in New London Connecticut, November 17, 2013. Photo, YouTube

(This post was originally appeared in The Huffington Post on December 13 2017 and was updated in 2019).

They would be 13 or 14 years old now, and in the eighth grade. Maybe they’d be learning in school about American history and slavery and reading the novel Lord of the Flies. But those 20 innocent schoolchildren never made it out of first grade.

It’s been nearly seven years since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The bloodshed attributed to rampage shootings continues at a frenetic pace; to my count there have been more than 30 mass shootings since that unspeakable tragedy. While progress is being made in some related fields—school safety and neurological medical research, for example—the sheer number of incidents and innocent lives lost is so painful that whatever steps forward we are able to take get lost in a tsunami of profound sadness and regression. Sometimes it’s all we can do to brace ourselves for the next.

Rampage murders bear a striking resemblance to another American crisis—that of suicide. In most cases that’s what a rampage is. The murderers know they’ll be killed and often kill themselves before police can. That’s exactly what the Newtown killer did. Suicide is so preventable, but it is now the 10th-most common cause of death in the U.S. and, relevant to rampages, the second highest cause of death among young people. The most notable and striking difference between the rampage and most suicides is the rampager also kills many innocent people.

The motives of rampage killers like the Newtown murderer or the 2017 Las Vegas killer are unknown. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from the rare rampager who survives, like the killer in Aurora, Colorado (the 2012 “Dark Knight” theater massacre), or Tucson, Arizona (the 2011 “Congress on Your Corner” massacre).

There is persuasive evidence that rampage killers study the rampagers who came before them, even obsess about them, as the Newtown killer did. They try to outdo their predecessors and achieve a notoriety in death that was unachievable in life. On that point, I believe it would be a significant step toward progress if major news media stopped using killers’ names (as I did here), stopped publishing their pictures, ignored their rants and stopped declaring their murders as “the deadliest.” Why award bloodthirsty murderers with titles and achievements, like trophies on a mantel? The more we make these killers famous, the more we are assuring that there will be someone (or multiple someones) intent on breaking these “records” of infamy.

I went to a very moving ceremony a few years ago to honor the memory of Emilie Parker, one of the little angels murdered in Newtown. The ceremony was the opening of a playground in New London, Connecticut. It’s called “Emilie’s Shady Spot,” a lovely, playful, cheerful, pink playground, with pictures of butterflies. The playground was one of 26 built by a group of New Jersey firefighters and paid for by generous donations. Playing on the sparkling new equipment, the children were running, climbing and playing with bright smiles on their faces. I heard laughter. I fought back tears. More than 200 other people in attendance also fought back tears that morning. Sometimes it seems that’s all a person can do. Or is it? How many more playgrounds have to be built?

[James D. Diamond’s 2019 book, After The Bloodbath: IS Healing Possible In The Wake of Rampage Shootings is now available from the publisher, MSU Press  from your local bookstore, and all major digital booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. ]

Cannibalism And Mental Illness On Trial In Bridgeport

There is a criminal jury trial going on in Bridgeport, Connecticut that is getting some national–even international—attention because the bizarre and gruesome nature of the allegations. Whenever you mention cannibalism you’re going to get people’s attention.

Tyree Lincoln Smith, left, with his lawyer Joseph Bruckmann appearing at his trial in Bridgeport Superior Court. Photo, BK Angeletti courtesy of The CT Post.

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The Case For Neighborhood Shops

One of my favorite activities is browsing and lingering at bookstores and record stores. You can still do that in most major cities, but in the suburbs, it has become quite a challenge; unfortunately my best shot is at the mall.  And, like most men, the mall experience, with it vast parking lots, multiple levels, hyperscents and fast food courts, just isn’t worth the hassle.

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Bring Back The Voting Booth

It’s been a month since Election Day and I’ve been thinking about the way we vote.  Maybe I’m nostalgic, but I miss the old “voting booths.” There will be a day, no doubt, when the memory of the “voting booth” will go the way of the “phone booth.” I guess what I really miss is the feeling that when I went behind a curtain the sacrosanct process of voting was a private one. It’s the privacy I think we have eliminated.

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Connecticut Courts Require Candidates to Follow The Law

I recently represented The Stamford Democratic Party in a Stamford Court trial, Caterbone vs. Bysiewicz, where the Party joined the Connecticut Secretary of State in objecting to James Caterbone’s request that the Court order the Secretary of State to place him on the ballot as a candidate for the State House of Representatives. In that case Assistant Attorney General Robert Clark and I were able to convince Judge Taggart Adams that Caterbone failed to abide by the Connecticut laws governing how candidates formally file the Certificate of Endorsement  that is filled out at their nominating conventions. Judge Adams refused to ignore the law’s requirements and held Caterbone to the letter of the law, refusing to order the Secretary of State to place his name on the ballot.  In this case,  Caterbone’s Certificate arrived in Hartford many days after the deadline for nominations had passed. This decision is very significant.

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Citizen’s Elections Are Underway in Connecticut

Dan Malloy has done something extraordinary, and something nobody else in Connecticut politics has done before him. In his quest to obtain the Democratic Party nomination to run for Governor of Connecticut, the former Stamford Mayor has raised more than $250,000 in over 4,000 small individual donations of $100 or less. That’s quite an accomplishment. Imagine the effort required to raise that number of small donations in a matter of months –the cocktail parties set up by countless hosts across the state, crisscrossing the state to attend those events, the paperwork required to track each donation; it’s mind boggling.

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Big Brother Was Watching Raymond Clark

Big Brother is watching you.

In Connecticut most arrests are made when the police show up on-site and make an immediate arrest.  In many states the other method would be by a grand jury indictment, but not Connecticut.  The second method here is where police ask a Superior Court Judge to approve an arrest warrant.

That’s how Raymond Clark was arrested.  New Haven police detective Scott Branfuhr applied to Judge Roland D. Fasano for approval of a warrant charging Clark with the murder of Yale graduate student Annie Le.  The warrant had originally been sealed, but last week Judge Fasano approved its unsealing and it is a foreshadowing of what the state’s case against Clark will look like.

Clark appears in New Haven Court for arraignment

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Can We Blame Oprah for Putting Charla Nash on TV?

Charla Nash appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday. Nash is the victim of the horrific attack by a 200-pound adult chimpanzee owned by her friend and employer Sandra Herold in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut. Nash deserves a world of credit for the appearance, as it took a tremendous amount of courage for her to appear. The disfiguration to her face is shocking.

Paramedics responding to the February 16, 2009 911 call said they found pieces of Nash’s fingers strewn on the floor and her hands looked as though they had been through a meat grinder. “The monkey had ripped off her entire upper jaw, had ripped off her nose, which as hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Kevin Miller, who treated Nash when she taken to the emergency room. “We found extensive dirt, chimp fur, and chimp teeth implanted in her bone.” Nash is missing both hands, but had a thumb surgically replaced on her left hand. Doctors removed her eyes and grafted a piece of her leg to where her nose used to be.Chimpanzee Attack

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Vote to Disagree With Joe Not Censure Him

The following column was published in The Hartford Courant, September 24, 2008

By Jim Diamond

The Democratic Party has always been the champion of the freedoms Americans hold dear. One such basic freedom is freedom of speech. This week, however, the leaders of the Democratic Party in Connecticut will decide whether the Party’s proud history of fighting censorship will endure or the Party will yield to the current temptation to silence speech, speech that offends and angers them.

A group of prominent Democratic state legislators, State Central Committee Members and local Town Committee members have introduced a resolution to be voted on Wednesday evening in Hartford to censure United States Senator Joseph Lieberman.  Censure is a serious form of discipline that deliberative bodies use to punish or rebuke members of the organization. This resolution calls on the State Central Committee, of which I am a member, to “publicly censure and repudiate the words and actions” of Senator Lieberman and to “ ask him to resign from the Party.”

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