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Seven Years After Tragedy, Several Newtown Students Embrace Activism

The young relatives and classmates of the students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary have begun to claim spots of their own in the school safety movement.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut nearly seven years ago took the lives of 21 first-grade students and six educators in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history. Many parents of children who died inside the elementary school became leading voices of the movement for increased gun control in Connecticut and across the country.

Now, several of the young people affected by the tragedy are old enough to take part in activism of their own in hopes of preventing more school shootings and healing the trauma they experienced as children, The Associated Press reported.

Particularly after witnessing the movement led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, following a deadly school shooting in February 2018, family members and classmates of the victims were pushed to take action.

Natalie Barden, whose 7-year-old brother Daniel was killed when she was 10 years old, said she originally disliked the media attention that her father, Mark, earned as an activist. The interviews Mark did brought back the memories of losing Daniel.

“When you’re that young, it’s really hard to wrap your mind around it,” Natalie, who is now a 17-year-old senior in high school, said. “Your sibling is such a big part of your life, and to know your brother for only seven years is gone — I still can’t wrap my mind around it. When I got to high school, it really hit me.”

She was inspired by Parkland activists to start speaking out in favor of gun control during her sophomore year, deciding to join the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, which promotes legislation related to gun control. Natalie has also begun to take part in speaking engagement with her father and lobby lawmakers to pass gun legislation, such as an assault weapons ban.

JT Lewis, a 19-year-old whose 6-year-old brother Jesse was killed in Newtown, is currently running for state senate and challenging a three-term incumbent for the Republican nomination.

Lewis, who has been involved in activism efforts on behalf of school shooting victims for years, said he is not a gun control advocate but wants to improve school security and mental health programs for students. He was invited to the White House in December 2018 to hear President Trump discuss the findings of a federal school safety commission.

“I’m tired of watching my politicians fight for gun control to no avail,” Lewis told the AP. “Right now, we need to look at other things. You’re seeing a lot of shootings now where the measures they wanted to pass wouldn’t have prevented anything.”

The University of Connecticut student said the pain from losing his brother, who would have been 13 years old, is still there.

“The lost person is still not there,” Lewis said. “Nothing is very different between now and last year.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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