On Sunday, January 13, 2013, I traveled to Newtown to give comfort and support to the people in that grieving community, where 20 children and six adults were killed by gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was invited there by Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), an organization created shortly after the tragedy to call for action to prevent gun violence. I was asked to be there to attend a Sunday evening reception, then a Monday press conference that would serve as a kickoff for the SHP effort on the one month anniversary of the tragedy. Also invited were nine other family members of victims of other mass shootings, including Aurora, Tucson and Virginia Tech. Most of us stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast in the middle of town.
I was told there might be a few parents of the murdered children/school employees participating in the press conference, but they weren’t sure, since it was so soon after the tragedy and they were sensitive about reaching out to grieving family members.
Upon arriving in Newtown that evening I went immediately to the SHP reception and was greeted by community members who were initiating the effort. Not long afterwards one of the leaders asked if would be willing to speak to a few parents of first graders killed at Sandy Hook. I told him I’d be honored to.
I was surprised to see that so many parents and family members had come to this event (about ten) so soon after their unspeakable losses. Most seemed to know who I was and seemed anxious to talk about my experiences. The most common questions were, “What’s it like after 13 years?” and “How have you managed to get through this?”
The next day was another reception, both before and after the SHP press conference. There I was able to speak to a few more parents/family members of victims—ones not at the previous evening’s reception. They were all wonderful people.
It was a very moving press conference, with parents and family members courageously sitting on a raised stage in front of an audience, facing the glare of television lighting from the many assembled members of the media. Some tearfully shared their stories and set forth the goals of SHP. The ten of us from other gun violence tragedies sat near the front of the audience to provide support.
Naturally it reminded me of some of my Columbine experiences. But at no time were a group of the Columbine parents gathered in front of a crowd of people and media members in such a public event just one month after the tragedy.It was a difficult trip emotionally but well worth it. I was very grateful for having been given the opportunity to share my experiences with these parents who were in so much pain. And while I was there I was able to personally deliver two signed, donated copies of my book to the town’s public library.
I encourage ALL of you to join Sandy Hook Promise. It's easy. Just visit their site www.sandyhookpromise.org