“Tuck Everlasting” and the Sandy Hook shooter

I noted earlier how “The Big Book of Granny” was created during an important juncture in the Sandy Hook shooter’s life — the family at 36 Yogananda was starting to splinter, the shooter (at age ten) was already exhibiting a few signs of emotional disturbance, and he was just about to be lost in the shuffle as he and his classmates all migrated to Reed Intermediate School after the new year of 2003.

The Granny book was not actually the only piece of writing from that time, though; it’s just the most notorious. In addition to that text, there were also several composition notebooks seized from 36 Yogananda:

shl-tuck-notebookswide1

One of those notebooks was the shooter’s writing journal from his fifth grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

shl-tuck-notebooktight1

You can tell this is the one based on the arrangement of the blue bookmark tabs, which were placed by police.

As the police logged them into evidence, they snapped a few photos of some of the pages, and here, there are two significant deviations from the case of the Granny book: the journal entry is dated, and the writing itself isn’t redacted.

From the context clues, one can tell that the shooter’s journal records that he was reading the 1975 children’s novel Tuck Everlasting, during these final days of the 5th grade class at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Before getting to the entry itself, a little background is necessary: Tuck Everlasting is a fiction book by American author Natalie Babbitt, and a bit unusual as far as children’s literature goes, in that it deals with some pretty heavy themes: existentialism, mortality, sustainability, and the environment.

The story involves a girl named Winnie Foster, growing up in the rural New Hampshire village of Treegap in the 1880s. Winnie’s family owns a large section of the pastoral wooded area around her home, and one day she meets the Tuck family as they pass through; over the course of the story, she learns that the Tucks (appearing to be a multi-generational family of children, adults and elders) are actually much older, as each of them having stopped aging at the point they obtained immortality, which was gained by drinking from a magic spring (hence the title, “Tuck everlasting.”) The wooded area where the spring is located also happens to be on the territory that Winnie’s family owns, which becomes a key detail.

By the point in the story covered in the shooter’s reading journal, Winnie has run away from home and been taken in by the Tuck family, while a sinister third party has become known to the reader: the nameless “Man in the Yellow Suit” who is trying to lure Winnie away from the Tucks, so that he can bring her back home and claim the land on which immortality spring sits, as his reward.

The yellow-suit man appears on the doorstep of the Tuck home, and the ensuing action is the basis for the observations in the journal entry: the Man in the Yellow Suit announces that he will be turning the magic spring into a business, selling immortality to the highest bidders, and that he is taking Winnie with him to fulfill the transaction. Winnie resists, the man roughly takes her by the arm and tries to drag her out of the house, and suddenly Mae (the matron of the Tuck family) swings a shotgun at the man, like a club, and hits him in the head. The wound soon proves fatal, and Mae is arrested for murder.

It appears that the shooter was asked to comment on Mae’s use of violence to protect Winnie (and, by extension, the secret of the immortality spring) in his journal. I will here try to transcribe what the journal entry says, though there is a section where the handwriting is too blurry for me to decipher, so here is the original police photo first (the original pictures are pretty dark, I just ran them through Google’s magic-wand filter):

shl-tuck-story1

 

DEC/6/02

I think Mae was justified to hit the man in the yellow. The world was in her hands because if everyone drank the water the world would be overpopulated but no one would think of that at first, they would just rush to buy the water and drink it. This [xxxx] but if you are [xxxx] it would be immortality and some people could abuse that ability. Actually the man in the yellow suit is the real kidnapper. Winnie wanted to go with the Tucks, but did not with the man. I would have done the same thing as Mae just did.

The two pages on either side of this journal entry appear to be related to the assignment. On the opposite page is a drawing depicting the scene at the Tuck house, with man in yellow at their doorstep:

 

shl-tuck-drawing1

The page is bent but he appears to be saying “I’M COMING IN YOUR HOUSE NOW” while at the bottom, the numbered stick figures around the house match the number of inhabitants (Tuck family plus Winnie) at the time.

For comparison, here is the man in yellow as portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley, in the 2002 Disney adaptation:

shl-kingsleyyellow1

The journal entry touches on the moral choices that are fundamental to the Tuck story: What would be the consequences for the world if anyone/everyone could live forever? Would immortality eventually become a burden, even a condition of torment for the individual? These observations aren’t unique to the shooter at all; they are actually expressed earlier in the story itself, most prominently when Jesse Tuck (who looks as if he is roughly Winnie’s age) takes Winnie out on a rowboat and explains why she should not want to drink from the magic spring:

“Know what that is, all around us, Winnie?” said Tuck, his voice low. “Life. Moving, growing, changing, never the same two minutes together. This water, you look out at it every morning, and it looks the same, but it ain’t. All night long it’s been moving, coming in through the stream back there to the west, slipping out through the stream down east here, always quiet, always new, moving on. You can’t hardly see the current, can you? And sometimes the wind makes it look like it’s going the other way. But it’s always there, the water’s always moving on, and someday, after a long while, it comes to the ocean.”

They drifted in silence for a time. The bullfrog spoke again, and from behind them, far back in some reedy, secret place, another bullfrog answered. In the fading light, the trees along the banks were slowly losing their dimensions, flattening into silhouettes clipped from black paper and pasted to the paling sky. The voice of a different frog, hoarser and not so deep, croaked from the nearest bank.

“Know what happens then?” said Tuck. “To the water? The sun sucks some of it up right out of the ocean and carries it back in clouds, and then it rains, and the rain falls into the stream, and the stream keeps moving on, taking it all back again. It’s a wheel, Winnie. Everything’s a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is.”

[…]

“It goes on,” Tuck repeated, “to the ocean. But this rowboat now, it’s stuck. If we didn’t move it out ourself, it would stay here forever, trying to get loose, but stuck. That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so’s we can’t move on. We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but someday a woman. And after that, moving on to make room for the new children.” Winnie blinked, and all at once her mind was drowned with understanding of what he was saying. For she—yes, even she—would go out of the world willy-nilly someday. Just go out, like the flame of a candle, and no use protesting. It was a certainty. She would try very hard not to think of it, but sometimes, as now, it would be forced upon her. She raged against it, helpless and insulted, and blurted at last, “I don’t want to die.”

It appears that the shooter had been dwelling on the ecological themes in this scene, as well as the macabre children’s nursery rhyme The Death and Burial of Poor Cock Robin, when he wrote this poem on the next page of his reading journal:

shl-tuck-poem

No frogs, no birds

too many ants are coming.

Ants overpopulate.

Ants dig dirt.

dirt grows plants.

Bees come to plants.

Cock Robin died.

Bees die.

Ants feed bees to babies

Ants will overtake to win

One baby died.

3 eggs wont hatch

One bird has no voice

This poem was covered by numerous mainstream news sources when the Connecticut State Police released their evidence files in 2013; I am not aware of any source making the connection to the neighboring pages or connecting any of this to Tuck Everlasting so far.

One final note of interest: about a month and a half after this journal entry was written, with the shooter and the rest of Newtown’s fifth grade having moved to Reed Intermediate School in the meantime, a teacher at Reed showed her 5th grade class a video: it was her interview with Natalie Babbitt, the author of Tuck Everlasting, answering questions that the students in Newtown had submitted to ask on their behalf. You can read about that in the archived news story from the Newtown Bee here.

Next update soon, probably by the end of the month.

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About Reed Coleman

email: reedscoleman@gmail.com
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4 Responses to “Tuck Everlasting” and the Sandy Hook shooter

  1. Interested says:

    This is amazing! I was familiar with these writings but I had absolutely no context for them until now! Thank you Reed. I am looking forward to your book.

  2. unknown says:

    Thanks for the update, Reed.
    I wanted to ask you how did you understand the poem. I lost track at the end.

  3. friend says:

    I await your update of last month with bated breath

  4. SaucyJimmy says:

    And now Natalie Babbitt is dead.

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