When I asked Francine Wheeler, one of the bereaved mothers of the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School what she wanted to talk about during a recent visit, she replied,
“My brain says, well I just want to keep talking about Ben. I want to talk about Ben all the time because I want him to stay alive. I want to talk about Ben’s friendship with this one who died and how much he loved school and I was looking at a letter to the families recently and they were naming every victim and my brain said maybe his name won’t be on the list and maybe he’ll just be alive…you know these crazy things. It’s been two years but I’m still there.”
At the core of it all is the unbearable loss of a child…multiplied by 20 innocent first graders along with their 6 educators…the collective trauma that was inflicted within the context of one small community…the added element of human intent that ended these lives…the weapons accessed to enable it…the world’s attention and our own national remembrance fleeting all too quickly on to the next shooting.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, a story of aftermath unfolded: what emerged was a rich mosaic of human connections formed amongst members of the growing club to which no one wants to belong. During a time when the town carefully balanced the need for privacy and recovery along with a desire for the story of their tragedy to affect change, access was delicate process.
I have been privileged to build a coveted trust with many individuals from Newtown, and have been deeply inspired by the strength of their journey from isolation to reconnection and by the mantra that this horrific event not solely define Newtown, but also define a moment for meaningful change in our nation.