Seven years ago, Nicole Hockley’s son, Dylan Hockley, was shot and killed at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The day, “started as a normal Friday morning,” she wrote in a recent Twitter post.
“After getting Dylan and Jake [Dylan’s older brother] on the bus, I did chores until I left for an exercise class,” she wrote. “While driving to class, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach, so bad that I almost pulled over to the side of the road, convinced I was going to be ill. It quickly passed. Looking back, I still wonder about that moment. Was it my imagination? A woman’s intuition? Or did I feel the moment my 6-year-old son’s life was taken, shot five times in his first-grade class at Sandy Hook School?”
Today, on the seventh anniversary, Hockley will visit the playground named after her son, Dylan, the boy she called “my butterfly,” who was one of 20 first-graders killed on Dec. 14, 2012.
Hockley, who co-founded Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) which focuses on gun violence prevention, says, “We always go to the playground, dedicated to Dylan, which is part of the Sandy Hook playground project. In the past, we’ve worked at a shelter and we’ve also taken a boat trip and thrown petals into the water to honor everyone who was lost that day.”
Her older son, Jake, 15, was 8 years old when he lost his younger brother. “He is resilient and strong,” she says. “He still misses his baby brother. He is turning into an incredibly compassionate and empathetic young man. His teachers always comment on how he looks out for his friends. He doesn’t talk about [what happened] in a lot in detail. He talked about it in extreme detail after it happened but when he talks about Dylan now, he does not talk about the day. We are really taking things at his speed.”
SHP focuses on providing education and tools to “build a national movement of parents, schools and community organizations engaged and empowered to deliver gun violence prevention programs.”
“I made a promise to Dylan to honor his legacy and I’m incredibly proud of the work we do at Sandy Hook Promise,” she says. “That’s why I’ve thrown myself into the work there to ensure that other parents don’t experience what I have experienced.”
The non-profit has now trained over 11 million youths and adults in all 50 states in their know the signs program. “It’s amazing when we avert a school shooting threat,” says Hockley, “but there is always a tinge of sadness because it’s too late for my family. But I’m going to honor the promise I made to help other families.”
SHP also just opened its first call center where people can submit tips anonymously by phone, email or their Say something app.
“It’s always shocking for me when I hear of another shooting, especially a school shooting, and it can bring me still right back to Sandy Hook,” says Hockley. “It feels like every day there’s a report of another shooting. There is so much work that needs to be done.”
“There still isn’t enough focus on solutions,” she notes. “We still focus on imminent danger rather than prevention. On a federal level, there is a lot of work that needs to be done — to get out of the gridlock. For example, allowing a vote on background checks but the issue of gun safety still seems to be stalled particularly in the Senate.”
“As a mom with a surviving son and in order to protect his future, it’s the love that I have for my children that drives me and energizes me,” she says of her fight for change. “I love to go to a school and see the students and you can feel their desire to change and help each other. They just need the tools to be able to do it. And that gives me strength.”
As for what people can do to help, Hockley says, “We can’t give up. Don’t think it’s a hopeless cause. People can get involved with one of the many groups available and teach kids how to recognize the signs of who is at risk and to stay inclusive and always to say something. People need to keep expressing the desire to change and not give up.”