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Newtown Parents Reflect On Orlando Attack

Eleven families of Sandy Hook massacre victims came to the event one month after the shooting to give their support to Sandy Hook Promise, a new non-profit with the goal of preventing such tragedies in the future. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Eleven families of Sandy Hook massacre victims came to the event one month after the shooting to give their support to Sandy Hook Promise, a new non-profit with the goal of preventing such tragedies in the future. (John Moore/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama will visit Orlando tomorrow to mourn the victims of Sunday’s attack on a gay nightclub that left at least 49 people dead. In December 2012, the president visited another American community to honor the dead in another mass shooting: Newtown, Connecticut.

Twenty children and six adult staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown were killed by Adam Lanza on Dec. 14, 2012. Here & Now‘s Robin Young speaks with Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who each lost children in the Newtown attack.

Interview Highlights: Nicole Hockley & Mark Barden

On their reactions to hearing about the Orlando shooting

Nicole: Sunday was an awful day for the country. But obviously as someone who has lost someone to gun violence, it was a horrible day for me that brought me right back to 12/14, knowing what the families must be feeling as they waited to find out about their loved ones. After Sunday, I just got angry. I really just doubled down on my resolve with Sandy Hook promise to prevent these tragedies from happening because they are preventable. People don’t have to keep dying. It’s completely unacceptable, and my heart grieves for Orlando and the community, but the rest of us need to act. We need to stop these things from happening.

On empathizing with the Orlando families

Mark: Absolutely. And what an interminable wait that is, waiting to determine the fate of your child or your loved one. It’s an unconscionable fact that we have to continue to live through this and as nicole said, these horrific tragedies are preventable.

On Congress not passing a tighter background check amendment in 2013

Mark: First of all, as most of the country, I thought as well, this was a low-hanging fruit. This was a law that had been in place already for decades. It was just about extending it to all sales, not most sales, and I thought it was absolutely going to pass, and when it didn’t, it was an eye-opening education for me. We knew that we had 90 percent of the United States was supporting that. So we started to look at that as an organization. How do you activate those people? How do you mobilize them? How do you organize them to be an effective voice in this if you have that much support?

So that’s what we’ve been doing with Sandy Hook promise, we’ve been getting those folks engaged and involved, and really kind of looking for sustainable solutions. You know, one of the things that literally keeps me up at night when I think about what happened to our little children, to my little Daniel and to Nicole’s little Dylan is what could we have done to prevent it before it happened. And that’s what we’re doing with Sandy Hook promise. We’re trying to find those intervals.


On a person purchasing a weapon if they’re on a terrorism watch list

Nicole: Definitely, I think our country needs to deal with the issue of the terror watch list and the terror gap that exists. It’s insanity. This is about protecting the majority of people, if you’re on the terror watch list then you should not have easy access to weapons. It’s as simple as that. In terms of mental health and at-risk behaviors, there are so many warning signs and signals that are thrown off especially in these planned events, which Orlando was a planned event. What happened at Sandy Hook was a planned event. People knew that something was going to happen. There were signs and signals that were put off by these shooters, but people don’t know necessarily what they’re seeing or hearing or reading and what to do with that information, and that’s a big education for our country as well.

This investigation is unfolding, and I feel confident in saying that as the investigation continues more signs and signals will come to the surface. But we have seen reporters of the shooter’s ex-wife and domestic violence. We’ve seen reports from a co-worker of the shooter talking about, again, violent outbursts and inappropriate access to different systems and firearms. And now the wife is reporting as well. And I feel certain that there will be other signs and signals that come up. Whether it’s stuff the shooter put on social media, or whether it’s something that friends or family knew and did not correctly identify or deal with. It’s almost guaranteed.

On the case against assault rifles

Mark: My personal opinion, this platform the assault rifle, and it comes in different forms, but the platform is designed for military use, for use on the battlefield to kill as many people as possible in as short amount of time as possible , and that’s what it does and it does that well. And we see that over and over again. If someone is intent on perpetrating an act of mass murder, that is the tool that they use for that because that is what it was designed to do. My personal opinion is that there is no practical application in civilized society for that kind of firepower.

On coping with the loss of a loved one who died in a mass shooting

Nicole: Well, every loss is unique. There is no common journey for everyone. It’s a very individual experience. For myself, as a mother to a son no longer here and a son who’s still living and thriving, I just do the best that I can to honor my child that died and protect my child that survived. Every day is difficult and has its own challenges. And the future is unknown. I’m not the same person that I was before what happened at Sandy Hook. I’ll never be that person again. I’m still figuring out who I am right now, and what my future might hold. But I’m just trying to be the best mom that I can be, the best friend that I can be and when I think about the families in Orlando, and the journey they might have ahead of them, the journey they will have ahead of them.

Navigating loss is impossible. You don’t know how you’re going to react until you’re in that situation. Sadly, there’s no handbook on how to deal with this. There’s no true cycle. You can bounce around every single emotion multiple times every day. Anything can trigger you and bring you right back to the start. People need to rely on their friends and their family and those that love them, and they need to be open to accepting that love because that’s truly what can help you stand on the days when all you want to do is lay down.

Mark: I would say the same. It’s a daily process. Here we are three and a half years after we lost our children, and I would say within every couple of minutes I’m reminded of something. I’m constantly thinking about my little Daniel. I miss him terribly. I miss him desperately. I was a stay at home dad. He was my little buddy. We were home together all the time. And it’s this cycle of desperate longing that for me just kind of collapses and devolves into pure rage with no place to direct that. I guess that’s where I kind of have to channel that into advocacy.

I’m constantly aware now of these folks in Orlando who are going through this, or who are beginning this journey. What I would say to them is that there is no wrong way to go about this. Allow the rage. You may question your faith. You may be angry and have ugly thoughts of rage and revenge and that’s OK too. And just don’t let anybody tell you that there is any way to do this. You’re not heading toward a day where you’re saying, “I’m OK now.” You just learn how to manage it.


Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, founders and managing directors of Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit that works to prevent gun violence against children. Nicole tweets @nicolehockley.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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