SAN JOSE -- Even before the long, agonizing day that was Friday, Kelley Johnson, of San Jose -- who hails from Newtown, Conn. -- had been thinking about violence and our connections to its victims.

"Enough with the books about the shooter psychopath," she angrily blogged after the July 20 movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colo. "The victims deserve a memoir. Let's not forget them."

Then on Friday, when Johnson, 45, saw her sweet hometown become the horrible scene of yet another mass murder, her heart broke all over again in ways she could not imagine. People she knew while growing up in the town of 27,000 and attending the scene of the massacre, Sandy Hook Elementary, were being splashed on TV.

The niece of a classmate from Newtown High died at the hands of the gunman, who shot dead 20 children and seven adults before killing himself. While Johnson has no immediate family among the victims, the bucolic little community is still like her family, she said. "Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody."

Familiar grief

In discussing her feelings about Newtown and the terrible shooting, Johnson quickly thought of her mother, who died in February. She was a town leader, a member of the school board, legislative council and Title IX commission. Johnson said her mom -- a teacher like the adult victims -- led a successful campaign for the town to purchase and transform a decommissioned mental health hospital into a municipal center.


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On Friday morning, before the extent of the carnage was known, Johnson frantically exchanged Facebook messages with ex-classmates to find out what happened. Then, after the death toll was revealed, the Facebook questions stopped.

As Johnson watched the aftermath of the deadly rampage, it turned out that her colleagues at Intel understood only too well the grief, shock and loss that has washed over Newtown and, now, the nation.

Several of them survived a 2008 office shooting, when a disgruntled laid-off employee killed the CEO and two employees at SiPort in Santa Clara. In 2011 Intel purchased SiPort, which develops HD radio chips, and Johnson was brought in to manage the transition.

Johnson has listened to workers relate their terrifying experience, how one executive escaped death because he happened to go to the bathroom when the shooter opened fire.

And then Saturday morning, as she was talking to her boss at Intel, Johnson discovered that he, too, had survived a workplace massacre -- in 1988 when an ex-employee and spurned suitor seeking revenge killed seven people and wounded four at ESL in Sunnyvale.

On Saturday evening, Johnson attended a vigil in Sunnyvale for the Newtown victims. While holding a tea light, she heard stories from others whose lives have been torn apart suddenly by gun violence.

"How connected are we to gun violence and victims?" she asked. She had been thinking that it was unusual for her California friends to know a Sandy Hook alumna, for her to work with survivors of a triple homicide and to have a boss who survived another mass killing.

But now, Johnson said she understands a terrible truth: Violence touches more people than we realize.

Going home

On Monday, Johnson will fly back to Newtown, to spend a long-planned holiday with her 86-year-old father, a retired teacher who still lives in the 17th century farmhouse where she grew up. It's a house with a now-retired outhouse in back and a hitching post, and full of antiques. She'll help him negotiate daily life in a town now clogged with TV vans, police, gawkers and Secret Service agents.

She'll share in community grief and witness the beginnings of recovery as Sandy Hook school moves its classes to a former elementary school campus offered by the neighboring town of Monroe.

Now, she is thinking of lobbying San Jose to stage a gun buyback program, like the one held Saturday by Oakland police.

In the longer term, Johnson wants the public to put more effort into honoring the memory of all shooting victims.

"In our search for 'why?' we focus on the perpetrator, and we somehow lose what we lost," Johnson said. "I don't want us to forget the victims."

Thus, in July, she had blogged, "Aurora, Colo., shooting victims, help us remember you."

She thinks a lot about how to change America's gun culture -- "I'd like to see it become uncool to have a gun" -- and about how to turn down the gun violence.

"We've become sort of blasé about accepting this violence," she said. "People say you're never going to stop it. But to me, it's not OK that 20 children and seven adults are dead."

Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.