(NEWTOWN, Conn.) — Nearly a decade after a group of students at Sandy Hook Elementary School and their teachers were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, two Sandy Hook parents said they are still in shock that their young children could be taken away in such a violent act.
But they said their grief isn’t holding them back from speaking out against gun violence and working to curb shootings across the country.
Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, the parents of Sandy Hook victims and co-founders of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, a gun safety advocacy group, spoke with ABC News Live Wednesday about their reflections on the 10th anniversary of the mass shooting. Hockley, who lost her son Dylan that day, and Barden, who lost his son Daniel, both said that the passage of time has become surreal and nothing has filled that void.
“I find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that it’s been 10 years since I last held Dylan,” Hockley told ABC News.
Twenty children – Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; and Allison Wyatt, 6 – were gunned down on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, by a 20-year-old shooter with a semi-automatic rifle.
Six educators – Rachel D’Avino, 29; Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; and Victoria Soto, 27 – were also killed.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, killed his mother Nancy before heading to the school. He took his own life afterward.
The shooting sparked outrage from Americans and elected officials over gun control laws and some states, such as Connecticut and New York, enacted stricter gun control laws.
The number of mass shootings recorded annually has doubled within the last decade, rising from 254 in 2013 to 692 in 2021, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that identifies mass shootings as cases in which four or more people are shot, and tracks them through public data, news reports and other sources.
Hockley said she was upset with the fact that gun deaths surpassed auto deaths as the No. 1 killer of children and adolescents in 2020, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If that doesn’t send a message to people that we’re not doing enough to keep kids safe, then I don’t know what else will get through,” she said. “We’re doing something drastically wrong as a country and we need to do something better.”
Hockley and Barden have been hard at work since 2013 to change those stats.
Sandy Hook Promise has developed a system that it shares with schools and parents across the country that helps them identify if a young person is showing signs of violence. Barden said the program is very effective with students and has helped them to warn adults of any peer that may be showing signs of mental health issues and violent tendencies.
“There are so many warning signs, and they can be subtle. Many are in the social media platforms, where the students are seeing them and the parents aren’t seeing them,” he said.
Hockley said she and fellow Sandy Hook parents won’t stop raising their voices against gun violence or their critics, particularly radio host Alex Jones. Jones recently declared bankruptcy after a Connecticut jury awarded almost $1 billion in damages to plaintiffs who accused Jones of committing defamation when he called the Sandy Hook shooting a hoax.
“Over the years that we’ve been working on this lawsuit, he has tried every ploy possible to delay. To alter his personal bankruptcy is just another stalling tactic. But we’re not going anywhere,” Hockley said. “This isn’t about the money. This is about getting consequences for his actions. And that is going to happen.”
Hockley added that the last decade has seen a major movement that has led to more people and leaders speaking out in favor of gun control, and she remains confident that it will continue to grow.
“We’ve seen this tremendous movement become much stronger than the gun lobby that existed at that time,” she said.
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