TEMPE, Ariz. — For Josh Rouse, Sandy Hook Elementary meant baseball and soccer — he grew up playing those sports on the school’s fields in his hometown of Newtown, Conn.
On the day the world learned of Sandy Hook and Newtown in a stunningly tragic light, Rouse stared at his computer screen in disbelief. The former Michigan State fullback and current graduate assistant could not imagine a mass killing happening in a place he called “a great environment to grow up in.”
But that’s what happened Dec. 14, when Adam Lanza killed 27 people — 20 of them young children who attended Sandy Hook — before shooting himself dead. President Barack Obama called it a case of “indescribable violence” and “unconscionable evil.”
“It was very sad,” Rouse said Wednesday in Tempe, Ariz., where MSU is preparing for Saturday’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. “At first it was sadness. Then grieving. And then anger a little bit.”
Rouse got in touch with his family, which no longer lives in Newtown. He started reconnecting with some of his friends from Newtown, where he played football at Newtown High before coming to MSU as a linebacker in 2006.
Everywhere he looked, there were connections to the tragedy. Good friends of the Rouses live two doors down from the Lanza household, where authorities said Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy, before heading to the school.
Rouse said a good friend of his was a baby sitter for some of the children who lost their lives, and another friend was a baby sitter for Adam Lanza.
Rouse wanted to do something, so he took a picture along with several MSU linemen and tight ends and submitted it to an organization called “Love is Louder.”
MSU linemen in the photo hold up signs reading “Love is Louder Than Violence,” with Rouse sporting a Newtown High sweatshirt. The picture also appears in a YouTube video made by a pair of Rouse’s friends from Newtown, Marcus Tracy and Anthony Santella.
“I just took a picture,” said Rouse, who lived in Newtown from pre-school through high school but attended one of the town’s other elementary schools. “I didn’t expect it to get much attention, but I just wanted to do something that was positive. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people back home.”
Rouse switched to fullback at MSU and was the starter entering the 2010 season, but his career was cut short by a broken neck suffered in the season opener. He served as a source of motivation for that team, which went on to win the first Big Ten title at MSU in 20 years.
Rouse worked the past two seasons as an offensive grad assistant and just completed his graduate degree in sports administration. He has decided he wants to coach and will either move on for next season or perhaps return to MSU in the same capacity and pursue another degree.
Wherever he ends up in the fall, he’s planning an offseason trip to Newtown, which he last visited in the summer of 2011.
“It’s a small environment where everyone knows everyone, everyone supports each other,” Rouse said. “It’s really a loving place.”