Teen survivor of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, speaking publicly for the first time, directs her outrage at deniers

Michael Hamad, Hartford Courant
·3 min read

A teenager named Ashley who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown on Dec. 14, 2012 — when 20 students and six adults perished in a horrific, brutal act of violence — spoke publicly for the first time in a video segment produced by the online site NowThis, lashing out against conspiracy theorists and deniers.

“For them to say, like, that this just didn’t happen, for it to be a hoax, for them to be paid actors or something, it’s so invalidating,” the young woman says in the video, which was published Friday. “It is incredibly invalidating to everything our community has gone through, to everything other communities have gone through. I can’t give you proof except for my trauma, except for the letters people wrote to us, except for the fact that I actually went to that school, you know. I can’t... I can’t even express how angry, how emotional that makes me.”

The video aired less than 24 hours after U.S. House members voted to strip Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — who has suggested that the shootings at Sandy Hook and Parkland, Florida, were staged — of her committee assignments, including a seat on the House education committee.

Ashley, who was seven at the time of the shooting, said she suffers from PTSD and survivor’s guilt and that her trauma has gotten progressively worse over time. “You don’t really grow away from it, you kind of grow around it,” she said. “As you grow up, it moves with you.”

The young woman describes the day of the shooting in detail, from picking out her own clothes that morning to sobbing in the arms of police officers: “I was just, like, falling all over them, being like, ‘Where is my sister? Do you know my sister’s alive? Please help me find my sister.’”

Ashley’s teacher, Abbey Clements, tried to calm the kids by reading a book, she said. The school’s loudspeaker intercom — Principal Dawn Hochsprung may have activated it to warn teachers and students before she was killed — remained on throughout the ordeal, relaying the already terrifying sounds of gunshots.

The children heard the footsteps of firemen on the roof of the building. “In our minds we didn’t really know what was going on,” Ashley said. “We kind of just figured like, oh, no, like, someone else is out to get us on the roof.”

Ashley recalled her teacher’s hands shaking as she called 911, then exited the room to pull two first graders to safety. “We even, like, pulled over, like, the stuffed animals that we had,” she said. “We had like a little farm for our stuffed animals, and we were trying to, like, calm each other down.”

Ashley’s classmates screamed when police officers finally knocked on the classroom door. The kids were told to close their eyes as they exited the building; some didn’t, she said, and remain scarred by what they saw.

“We didn’t know if the guy was still alive,” she said. “We didn’t know if he was still roaming the halls.”

The fact that eight years have passed without meaningful gun violence legislation, Ashley added, “is so unacceptable.”

“[President Biden] understands what losing a child is like, and he understands the amount of trauma and pain that comes behind losing a child,” Ashley said. “I think for him to be able to connect to that is so powerful because he can make a difference. And I think a big thing I would tell him is not give up on us, you know, not give up on the idea of, like, you can’t change because like, if he pushes hard enough and if we continue to fight long enough and hard enough, things will change.”

Michael Hamad can be reached at mhamad@courant.com.