NEWTOWN, Conn. — For the past three years, Amesbury native Ashley Waters has rented a house in Newtown, Conn. with her fellow teammates on the Stratford Brakettes softball team.
She got to know the town well, as she and her teammates held clinics and gathered on practice fields throughout the community. The Brakettes, which is part of the Amateur Softball Association, often hold practice clinics for students in Newtown, working with kids from first grade through high school.
Yesterday, Waters sat in front of her television a couple miles from the Sandy Hook Elementary School where a shooting left 26 people dead, including 20 small children. As she watched the breaking news on television, she hoped and prayed that none of the fatalities were children that she teaches or siblings of young softball players that the Brakettes have worked with. She said she did not know the shooter’s mother, who was a teacher at the school.
In an interview with The Newburyport Daily News, a sister paper to the Salem News, she described the scene in the town in the wake of the shooting, and said she witnessed police taking action.
Stopping on her way home to get gas, Waters witnessed a crowd of police descend upon a building directly across the street from the gas station, in the area of Saint Rose Catholic Church and school in Newtown.
She watched, along with a growing crowd of bystanders, as the officers circled the building with weapons drawn.
After about 20 minutes, she began to hear reports that the police had just taken a second suspect into custody. It’s unclear if he was hiding in the church or another building in that area.
“I have never seen more cops in my entire life (than today),” Waters said. Since getting onto the highway, she estimates about 12 more police cars have passed her.
As the afternoon wore on, the tone of the normally busy town has changed.
“It’s really eerie,” she said yesterday. “There’s no one out.”
Her friend was sent home from work as news reports continued to release information and the death toll rose, Waters said. Initially, the office was put on lockdown, but employees, unable to sit and do work, searched for information. Soon, they were told to go home, Waters said. That scenario occurred at businesses throughout the town, she added.
Parents were heading to all area schools, including middle and high, to pick up their children, Waters said.
Newtown has a small town feel where residents keep track of the local sports teams and what their neighbors are up to.
“It’s a really tight-knit community,” she said. “It reminds me a lot of home. It’s a really, really nice place.”
Waters, a 2005 Amesbury High School graduate, took a position as an assistant coach with the Harvard University softball team this fall. When Harvard closed for winter break, Waters returned to Newtown to stay with a friend just a few miles from the elementary school. She’s been there for two weeks, once again holding clinics and giving lessons.
While Waters plans to spend much of December and January in Newtown where she spent all last summer as well, she was heading home to Amesbury for the weekend, longing to be close to family in the wake of the tragedy. Waters also spent the day answering calls and messages from her fellow Stratford Brakettes teammates.
“It’s a really special place to us,” she added.