Jonesboro’s survivors — and the shooters — recall a moment of horror

It was five years ago that a young man invaded Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and shot and killed 20 young children and six staff members, a tragedy that indelibly scarred that small city and lives on in the collective national memory. But school shootings didn’t begin, or end, with Sandy Hook. Yahoo News looks at the aftermath of four of these tragedies and the lives they changed. In this story, we examine how 20 years on, Jonesboro, Ark., is still traumatized by an attack carried out by two middle-school boys — and how survivors deal with the knowledge that the killers are now grown men and free from prison. In other stories we look at the lessons from Sandy Hook that may have helped save lives at a California school just last month and at how the parents of a girl killed in Newtown are coping with their loss.

JONESBORO, Ark. — Sometimes the feeling of anguish comes out of nowhere. Maybe it’s triggered by a certain shift in the wind or when the temperature is warm but not too warm. Sometimes it’s seeing something on television that suddenly brings it all back, a memory of a horrible day that happened long ago but is as vivid as if it were yesterday.

For Lynette Thetford, it is the warmth of the early spring that has often proved to be most challenging, and for nearly two decades she has steeled herself waiting for those difficult days, bracing for the pain and memories that inevitably come rushing back no matter how much she prays to God for strength and healing, no matter how far she’s come.

Over the years, Thetford has gotten more adept at keeping it together, reliant on her strong Christian faith and protected by a cocoon of family, friends and colleagues who make sure she feels loved and safe. But last February, the darkness enveloped her when she wasn’t expecting it — an unusually mild day in the dead of the winter. It was the kind of day most people live for, especially the kids at Nettleton Junior High, where she works in the library. But in the early afternoon, Thetford felt her heart racing and her emotions plummeting. She struggled to breathe and tried not to cry. Soon she was over “the cliff,” as she put it, back in the emotional abyss.

“I wasn’t ready for it,” Thetford recalled, her voice a little shaky. “When it gets to the conditions of the air, when the weather was like it was that day — I know it’s been, like, 19 years, but I still have that relapse.”

Thetford can’t help but think of…

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