Five years ago to the day, Tina Hassinger was shopping at Target with two of her children.
It was about 10am in the morning, she says, and she had a basket full of groceries ready to be paid for when her phone began to ring.
“It was my sister calling to tell me there’d been a shooting at Sandy Hook, the elementary school where my mum was the principal. I didn’t know yet that she had been killed,” Hassinger wrote on Facebook on Friday.
It was five years ago – December 14, 2012 – when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children, as well as six adult staff members, in a gun-fuelled rampage through the primary school.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung was one of the first shot. Dawn Hochsprung was Tina Hassinger’s mother.
“I headed toward the exit of the store, abandoning a cart full of diapers and Goldfish crackers in front of the doors. I gathered the kids and rushed out of the store. Was it then that you noticed me?
“I don’t remember what I did when I got outside, but I know that’s when you approached me. Was I standing still, dazed? Was I frantic? I don’t remember.
“My memory of what happened over the next several hours is patchy. Some details are vividly clear. Other parts I don’t recall at all.”
Hassinger went on to detail exactly how this unnamed woman watched her, calmed her and settled her. But she did not know her name, or remember her face.
“You told me to sit down. Maybe I was pale, shock having drained the color from my face? I must have been holding Alyson’s infant carrier. Was I also carrying Charlie? Holding his hand?
“I told you there’d been at shooting at my mum’s school. I think you asked me something then, but I don’t remember what. You said something in attempt at reassurance. But again, I can’t recall what it was.
“I stood to head toward my car and you did something to help. What was it? Did you carry Alyson in her carrier? Or did you hold Charlie’s hand as you walked us to the car?”
The woman offered to drive Hassinger home, making sure they arrived safely. Hassinger said no, but the kindness of the stranger was overwhelming.
“I told you no, that it really wasn’t necessary. But you insisted.
“When we got to my house, I don’t think we spoke again. Did I wave my thanks as you drove off? Or did you wait in your car to watch as we disappeared inside?
“I don’t remember your face. And I never asked your name. But I remember your kindness, five years later.
“I’ve recounted the story of your help and concern that day many times. I have remembered your kindness over and over again,” she wrote, adding her “compassion” was “a bright spot in [her] memory of that dark day.”
On the same day, Hassinger’s sister Erica paid tribute to her late mother.
“27 years with you was not enough. I still had so much love to give. I still need your love. I need your guidance, advice, spirit, heart, compassion, sass, sarcasm and so much more. You were stolen from me. From Tina. From your grandchildren. From the world.”
Now, both sisters are on the hunt for the lovely, kind stranger from Target. The one that gave Tina Hassinger the smallest light of good in a day overwhelmed by so much evil.
Listen: Why are US gun laws unchanging, despite massacre after massacre? We discuss, on Tell Me It’s Going To Be OK.