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Family's pain stretches around world for Cavs coach

Thom Carter is familiar to most Canberrans as the American recruit and general manager of baseball team the Canberra Cavalry who regularly talks sport on local ABC radio.

But on Monday baseball was put aside as listeners shared his grief over the Connecticut school shooting, and the painful family connection to the massacre with his six-year-old nephew Carter losing friend Emilie Parker.

Emilie's sweet face, representing the loss of innocence and the brutal slaying of 20 six and seven-year-old students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Saturday, was the image of Monday's front page.

It was an image that Mr Carter found particularly difficult to see - knowing his ''always happy and cuddly'' little nephew was having to process a terrible loss.

''Seeing her on the front page like that, it caught me off guard,'' he said.

Emilie and Carter became friends at Sunday School in the four years that Mr Carter's older sister Laura and her husband Sean lived in Connecticut. Mr Carter spent the weekend in close contact with his parents, who broke the news to him of the massacre during a regular phone call on Saturday morning. Mr Carter then skyped with his two sisters and brother as they struggle to comprehend the senseless loss of life.


By Saturday evening, he was speaking with Laura about how she was going to tell her son that he had lost a playmate. ''She was really struggling over how she was going to have the conversation. It's one thing to talk about death in the realm of people getting old and dying, but this is a six-year-old girl, and 19 of her classmates … Do we talk about evil or do we say bad things just happen?''

Feeling homesick and distressed, Mr Carter spent the early hours of Sunday morning in front of his computer, skyping his nieces and nephews and distracting them with Christmas carols and talk of Santa's impending visit. He finally skyped Carter, who sat down with his mother and told his uncle that he needed to tell him something. ''Mummy and daddy told me a bad man went to a school and a whole class of kids was killed including my friend Emilie,'' Carter said. ''How do you feel buddy?'' Mr Carter responded. ''Well it made me feel afraid. But mummy told me it doesn't happen very often and that I don't need to be afraid. I'll be brave for mummy.''

It was heartbreaking to have such a discussion. ''The whole thing has sent shockwaves around the world, but it was so much harder to see my nephew upset, and to see my sister crying, and to know that their friends Robbie and Alyssa have lost their daughter, that all those parents have lost children, that those brave educators died trying to save their students … It feels a very small world right now.''

Mr Carter, 34, who was lured to the Australian Baseball League 18 months ago, has had a political career, working as a special assistant to Congress in healthcare for the Energy and Commerce Committee. He was also a government affairs agent for a Catholic hospital system and a city councilman for Montgomery in New Jersey.

He hoped the shooting would bring about a more constructive and less partisan debate about gun control and he believed President Barack Obama was ''smart enough'' to make it happen. But he was also concerned it might make more Americans feel vulnerable and buy guns for personal safety. ''I personally, have never understood the desire for guns … I would hope that we can have an open dialogue about what needs to happen in America to ensure children are safe. But I hope it doesn't lead to more guns. Because one person does a terrible thing do we put armed guards in front of every school? I hope not.

''Right now, like a lot of Americans, I guess, I am feeling hopelessness and helplessness. I just want to jump on a plane, race to my sister's house and throw my arms around those kids.''

He will head back to the US mid-March after the baseball season, and will join his whole family on a trip to Disney World.