The Ultimate Holiday Wish from Students – To Feel Safe in School

A holiday remembrance for the Sandy Hook victims


Rick Weiss

12/14/20233 min read

Telephone pole near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Jessica Hill For the New York Times
Telephone pole near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Jessica Hill For the New York Times

12/14/2020 marks a somber anniversary in the annals of American gun violence; for on this day 11 years ago, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, took the lives of 26 people, twenty of them kindergartners between six and seven years old. The other six were adult staff members. To commemorate and honor these victims and others who’ve lost their lives, we at asked our student collaborators what they really want for the holidays. This 45 second video is their response.

This year winds down with another grim reminder that since 2020, gun violence has surpassed all other causes of child mortality, including cancer, auto accidents and poisoning. We tend to think of school shootings as a relatively recent phenomenon, but guns, like schools, have been part of American life since the beginning. The first recorded U.S. school shooting happened in 1853. Its victim was a teacher. This Wikipedia link records 32 incidents in the 19th century and 326 in the 20th century.

This article from the Washington Post makes two startling claims. The first is that 359,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine (April 20, 1999). The second perhaps even more shocking claim is that our federal government does not track school shootings. The Washington Post has independently tracked how many of our children have been exposed to gun violence during school hours. 359,000. Let that number sit with you.

"Beyond the dead and wounded, children who witness the violence or cower behind locked doors to hide from it can be profoundly traumatized."

There have been 392 school shootings since 1999, according to Post which reviewed more than 1,000 alleged incidents:

"… but counted only those that happened on campuses immediately before, during or just after classes. ... Gunfire at colleges and universities, which affects young adults rather than kids, also was not counted."

Is there really that much difference between an 18 year old kid and a 19 or 20 year old? Including December 6, CNN reports 80 school shootings so far this year and 79 in 2022. A pointed reminder that the year isn’t over yet. The numbers differ slightly depending on who’s looking and what their criteria are. But the common factor is that the incidents at schools whip past with such accelerating, startling regularity (and we’re not even factoring in the much larger mass/community-based shootings) that our sense of the landscape of the tragedy blurs. But let’s not let it blur into numbness! Let’s press the pause button here today and remember these 26 people. If you can handle it, click the link, look at their pictures and read their bios.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel D’Avino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47

Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

Let their memories be a blessing. And more, an impetus to do better as a nation. In a year marked by budget battles and threatened shutdowns certain politicians are looking to strip the CDC of its ability to research gun violence. How can we make progress if we can't even scientifically analyze the scope of the problem? Like the good folks at Sandy Hook Promise, we at www.willyouhearmenow.comalso “envision a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.” Now that's a holiday wish we can all live with and take into the New Year.


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