Relatives dedicated to advocacy 5 years after Sandy Hook shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Out of a senseless tragedy, they have sought ways to find meaning in advocacy.

Many relatives of the 26 children and educators killed five years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School have dedicated themselves to charity, activism and other efforts to channel their grief and, in many cases, to help prevent violence.

“You have two choices,” said Rebecca Kowalski, whose 7-year-old son, Chase, died in Newtown. “I could be in the bottom of a bottle; I could not get out of my bed. Or, I could do what’s making us heal a little bit every day.”

Some organizations, like the Kowalski’s youth triathlon program, honor the passions of the children who were lost on Dec. 14, 2012.

Others have jumped into the policy fray to lobby for gun control or improved mental health care. In some cases, they have traveled the country, and even the world, as recognized experts in their fields, such as Jeremy Richman, a scientist whose Avielle Foundation for the study of brain health is named for his slain daughter.

The Sandy Hook families have created a website to share each of their stories and information about the various projects they have started in memory of their family members.

A look at some of them:

———

Seeking safer schools

Alissa Parker had Michele Gay’s phone number on her refrigerator because Parker’s daughter, Emilie, had been invited to a birthday party for Gay’s daughter, Josephine.

The day before the party was to be held, both children were killed.

Parker, who had lived in Newtown less than a year and didn’t know many other parents, called Gay. The two bonded over their shared loss and eventually teamed to form Safe and Sound Schools, a foundation that provides information and resources about school safety.

They travel, usually separately, to schools around the country, giving talks that detail their personal experiences on the day of the shooting and discussing in detail how their children died. They then talk about what can be done to make schools safer, everything from making sure that classrooms can be locked from the inside to involving first responders in school emergency drills.

“I feel very solid that this is what Josephine wants me to be doing, and Alissa feels the same way about Emilie,” Gay said. “We made a deliberate choice to be guided by our children and their spirits. We wanted to be positive. We wanted to avoid the political and some of the hot button issues and be focused on the practical things that everybody can do to make the community safer.”

———

Running for healing

Kowalski said her healing has come by organizing a children’s triathlon program, Race4Chase , in memory of their son, who loved to race and had competed in a similar event the summer before the shooting.

The free day camps, run in conjunction with the YMCA, teach children the fundamentals of swimming, biking, running, nutrition, strength and flexibility. At the end of six weeks, campers come together for a sanctioned triathlon.

The program has grown to 20 locations in three states.

“We originally wanted a brick-and-mortar place where families could come and work out and be together,” Kowalski said. “We knew we were going somewhere, but we didn’t know where. Chase provided us with the direction. Now, we have 20 places, and people have really embraced what the program is all about.”

————

Emotional learning

While some in Newtown avoid speaking the name of the shooter, Adam Lanza, Nelba Marquez-Greene freely discusses the social and emotional problems of the man who killed her 6-year-old daughter, Ana Grace.

“I want people to remember that Adam, the person who did this, was also once 6 and in a first-grade classroom and that if we had reached out earlier, then maybe this could have changed,” Marquez-Greene said.

Marquez-Greene’s Ana Grace Project works with schools in New Britain, a city just west of Hartford, to teach empathy, combat bullying and help socially isolated children.

The foundation’s Love Wins campaign, created with a local teacher, builds on the existing curriculum and also brings therapists and interns into the schools to help identify children who need extra help with social skills.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son, Jesse, was killed at Sandy Hook, also has been pushing for more emotional learning in schools. Her Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement has developed its own social-emotional learning curriculum which began on a pilot basis in four schools in Connecticut, Hawaii, Arkansas and New Mexico and has been downloaded by many other schools and organizations.

“I believe this is an urgent matter,” Lewis said. “I believe it would have saved my son’s life, as well as the lives of other victims across the United States and reduce bullying.”

————

Teacher scholarships

The family of slain first-grade teacher Vicki Soto decided to hold a 5K race in her hometown of Stratford, Connecticut, annually around her November birthday to celebrate her life.

In 2013, about 500 runners took part, many wearing outfits adorned with Soto’s favorite animal, the pink flamingo. Last month’s race had more than 4,000 runners and walkers.

With the proceeds, the Sotos have given out more than $90,000 in scholarships to students pursuing careers in education.

Emily Mackay, of Stratford, received one of the first scholarships in 2014. She expects to graduate this spring from the University of Massachusetts with a degree in communications disorders and plans to get a master’s degree so she can pursue a career in an elementary school as a speech pathologist.

“Being a part of Vicki’s legacy has really motivated me throughout school. I will forever be grateful and honored that the Soto family believed in me to carry on Vicki’s legacy and will always teach my students with her in mind,” Mackay said.

The Sotos also have established a literacy campaign at the local library that involves such things as after-school tutoring, and the creation of mentor-text learning programs.

———

Sandy Hook promise

Sandy Hook Promise, one of the best-known organizations to form in the shooting’s aftermath, was co-founded by several Newtown families, including the parents of first-grade victims Dylan Hockley and Daniel Barden.

The group lobbied for mental health care changes and gun control legislation in the months after the shooting, successfully advocating for state laws limiting sales of some guns in states such as Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois and New Jersey.

The group also was heavily involved in a failed effort in 2013 to get a federal law banning some semi-automatic weapons and expanding criminal and mental background checks for gun purchases.

The group says it had 17 families from Sandy Hook who lobbied 49 senators over seven days.

Sandy Hook Promise then switched its focus from legislation to community-based prevention programs, education and public service campaigns designed to change “gun violence acceptance attitudes and behaviors,” said Nicole Hockley.

Among other things, the organization teaches people to recognize those who exhibit warning signs such as a bullying victim who has a fascination with firearms, has threatened to hurt themselves or others, has access to guns and has become disinterested in school.

They point to events such as one in Cincinnati in 2015 in which a counselor trained by the organization was able to identify a threat to a middle school that resulted in the arrest of a student who had told others he was planning to bomb the school and had recruited others to help shoot children.

“We absolutely know it’s making a difference because we’ve trained over 2 million children and adults in the last 2 1/2 years,” Hockley said.

The group this week launched its latest public service announcement, depicting a newscast covering a school shooting the day before it actually takes place to illustrate how knowing warning signs can prevent such tragedies.

ad-high_impact_4
News
NSPCA Gets Kittens From LA
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like