‘I have to dig deep’: Texas shooting tests Newtown parents


Erica Lafferty, whose mother Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, poses for a picture on the playground honoring her mother in Watertown, Connecticut, Wednesday, 25 May 2022. A program manager at Everytown for Gun Security and advocate for universal background checks, Erica Lafferty said gains have been made quietly in states across the country. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)


As the mother of a girl killed at Sandy Hook, Michele Gay was devastated by the Texas elementary school massacre, with its painful parallels to the 2012 attack in Connecticut.

It was all the more saddening in light of the work she has invested in the years since to promote school safety.

“This one was especially devastating for me, for my family, for our community, Sandy Hook. We are literally transported back in time,” said Gay, co-founder of the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools. “I have to dig deep. I’m not going to lie.

In the decade since 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, some of their loved ones who channeled their grief into advocacy have claimed success, incrementally, in areas such as safety firearms, attitudes toward gun violence, and mental health awareness. Uvalde’s attack tested their resolve like no other.

Like the Newtown shooter, the Texas attacker was a young man who shot an older family member he was living with before opening fire with an AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle in the interior of a nearby primary school, slaughtering small helpless children.

As details of Tuesday’s shooting emerged, Matt Vogl was texting Jennifer Hensel, whose daughter Avielle was killed in Newtown, and others involved in an advocacy effort named in honor of the youngster. daughter, the Avielle Initiative, which promotes efforts to make mental health care more widely. available through technology.

“We were all crying and texting. It’s brutal because it triggers some of the darkest memories we have,” said Vogl, executive director of the National Mental Health Innovation Center in Colorado, where the program is based. The effort was launched after the attack on Newtown by Hensel and her husband, Jeremy Richman, who died by suicide in 2019.

“If I can’t stay optimistic, I have to give up and find something else to do. On days like today, that’s all you have. The vast majority of people don’t go to schools to shoot them,” Vogl said.

In the first months after the Newtown shootings, much of the families’ advocacy work focused on gun control, particularly a failed effort in 2013 to secure federal legislation banning certain semi-guns. -Automatic and expanding criminal and mental background checks for gun purchases.

One of the best-known groups, Sandy Hook Promise, later turned to campaigns that helped pass state laws restricting the sale of certain firearms and, more recently, prevention programs. community.

There have been victories. The trainings offered to schools by Sandy Hook groups have been credited with stopping potential suicides and school shootings. The families of the victims have prevailed in legal battles with conspiracy theorists and a lawsuit against arms maker Remington which has held the company responsible for its marketing of military-style rifles like those used in the Newtown and Newtown attacks. ‘Uvalde.

For Mark Barden, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise, the Texas shooting was all the more frustrating because of how much has been learned about how looking for warning signs can prevent such tragedies.

“Today is difficult because I think of these families in this community,” said Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. “But I have to restrain myself from crashing because I know we have something here that works.”

Gay, whose group works with schools across the country, said it was disheartening to hear signs that signs might have been missed in the Texas case.

“It already appears that there were many red flags, many changes in his behavior in the last year of his life, social media posts that were opportunities to report and then to intervene,” she said. “It’s hard.”

Survivors of the Newtown shooting were among those who expressed outrage.

Mary Ann Jacob, a former Sandy Hook library worker, was huddled in a closet with 18 children during the 2012 shooting.

“Yesterday I was back in that closet, remembering the fear and the horror we went through, trying to be brave for the kids we were with, when we were more scared than we knew. ‘never been in our life,” she said Wednesday during an appearance with the Connecticut governor in Hartford. “Once again, gun violence has made its way into our schools, leaving only devastation, trauma and tragedy in its wake.”

Newtown schools had an increased police presence on Wednesday, and Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue said counselor teams were on alert for students who may be traumatized by the Texas news, including high school students who survived the Sandy shooting. Hook.

“Visiting just today, it was very evident that the staff were there to support their students, especially those in high school who were at Sandy Hook,” she said.

Though Congress hasn’t passed meaningful gun control legislation since the Newtown attack, Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, pushes back against those who say nothing is wrong. has changed since Sandy Hook. A program manager at Everytown for Gun Safety and an advocate for universal background checks, she said gains have been made quietly in states across the country.

“It’s absolutely not something I see stopping. I hope it’s a revelation, like Sandy Hook was, for a push at the federal level,” she said. “But what’s it going to be? Your guess is as good as mine.


Associated Press writer Susan Haigh contributed from Hartford, Connecticut.

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