Learning to get past a massacre of kids in Scotland

(CBS News) DUNBLANE, Scotland - All of America is asking how Newtown, Conn., can ever recover from the tragedy there.

The search for an answer took CBS News to Dunblane, Scotland.

Dunblane was a quiet little town, nestled in forested hills, until calamity struck.

On March 13, 1996, panicked parents rushed to the Dunblane Primary School, where 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton had opened fire in the gym.

Sixteen five- and six-year-olds - and their teacher - were dead.

Sixteen more were injured - including Matthew Birnie, shot in the chest.

Steve Birnie
Steve Birnie
CBS News

More than a decade later, his father Steve heads the Dunblane community center - built with money donated to the town after the shooting. On the windows, there's a motif for each child killed.

The victims and their families found deep love and support in Dunblane, but in the end, Steve Birnie found that grief is a long and private journey.

"People will grieve in different ways and at different times and to not necessarily assume that people are over it, because for some people it will take an awfully, awfully long time, and the slightest thing can reopen wounds and the hurt," Steve Birnie said.

Some of the anger and heartbreak here was channeled into the anti-gun lobby, which eventually won a near-blanket ban on private handgun ownership in the U.K.

This summer, the community here turned another corner, when Andy Murray -- the tennis champion who was one of the Dunblane pupils hiding under his desk as the shots rang out in 1996 -- won gold at the London Olympics.

For Dunblane, at last, there was a joyful legacy to balance its awful stigma.

But as soon as the news of the Sandy Hook shootings broke, old wounds reopened.

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"I would say our hearts go out to them and...I'm not really giving them the best advert for someone who's moved on. But I think out of the most tragic circumstances, some good does appear and hopefully that will happen for them," Steve Birnie said.

At the Dunblane community center, they're lighting candles of condolence and sending sympathy from one of the only places in the world that really understands the depth of Newtown's grief.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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