'I Lost My Son at Sandy Hook, This Is My Message to Uvalde Parents'

On Tuesday, May 24, I was on a work call when I received news that another mass shooting had occurred, this time at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As I scrolled Twitter on my phone, I started seeing hearts and crying emojis. My heart sank. Seeing them often means another school shooting.

As the death toll in Uvalde rose, I was transported back to December 14, 2012. Then, as I was settling into my work day, I was notified there had been a shooting at my own son's elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

I reversed my commute from the school to work in half the time, only to wait for hours, alongside the other parents of missing children, to see if any survived.

Jesse, my six-year-old son, was one of the 26 people killed that day. I can still remember driving home that evening, glancing back in disbelief at an empty car seat that had served so well to contain a bubbling, smiling first grader just hours before.

Of course there are no words to comfort those parents. Their lives have changed course, forever. They wake up each day, as I did, in excruciating pain. They will soon say good-bye, forever, to their most precious loved one; the child who was to grow to carry on their dreams of a peaceful and productive humanity.

Scarlett Lewis's son Died at Sandy Hook
Scarlett Lewis with her son, Jesse. In 2012, Jesse was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School when he was 6-years-old. Scarlett Lewis

It can be comforting knowing the nation, and world, mourns with you; that you are not alone.

I have been in the Uvalde parents' shoes. Instead of making holiday plans, you are now faced with making funeral arrangements. You are in shock because you simply can't believe this could have happened to your child, and in your community. Your family draws close and you hunker down for survival. The pain is so overwhelming, you wonder how it is possible to survive it. I remember asking myself: How will I stand through my son's wake? How will I approach my son's casket at his funeral? Will it be open, or are his wounds too heinous? The questions swirled in my mind.

I put my best foot forward for my older son, knowing that in the moment, I was modeling what healing looked like to him. What helped me deciding that I was not going to be another victim; helpless and hopeless. I was determined to honor Jesse's legacy by being an advocate for children.

My friends and family supported this. I rethought my life and priorities. I sought out non-traditional types of therapy to heal, and directed my efforts towards creating a solution. I took solace with those who had experienced a similar loss. I gained strength from the outpouring of a world's tears.

So I want to tell the parents of Uvalde that the world has looked at your child's picture, and we know their name.

I believe we can all take responsibility for what's happening in our schools, homes and communities. Rather than sit back and watch our leaders egotistically slug it out and continue to wait for someone else to fix the problem, we can all take positive action today. We should vow that these parents' loved ones have not died in vain.

Knowing that what happened at Sandy Hook could have been prevented, I quit my job after Jesse's murder and founded the Choose Love Movement. Positive action helped direct my anguish and gave me an outlet, and I am now dedicating the rest of my life to being part of the solution. Jesse himself guided me in this direction. I found a message on our kitchen chalkboard he had written before he died, "Norturing Helinn Love"—he was writing "Nurturing Healing Love."

Jesse showed tremendous bravery when he stood up to the gunman who blasted their way into his first grade classroom. He saved nine of his friends' lives before losing his own. In the years since he died, I have come to believe we all have the capacity for the courage and compassion that Jesse showed. He was, after all, only six years old.

I also came to realize that if the shooter at Sandy Hook, a recent graduate of the district, had been able to give, and receive, love, the tragedy that took my son's life might never have happened. It seemed so simple, but simple isn't always easy.

Our children's lives have become complex. We have front row tickets to the worst of humanity on our screens, with traumatizing images we can't unsee. Mental health has declined amongst children and adults and families suffer the consequences. Isolation, loneliness and fear during the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated many of our problems.

In order to get ahead of the issue of school shootings, I believe we have to address the root cause. We must provide our kids, including big kids, with the coping mechanisms and the social-emotional competence needed to overcome hardship and pain. Healthy connection and resilience are key. We can't always choose what happens to us, but we can take our personal power back through our thoughtful response. I call this: "Choosing love."

Nothing else matters if your child isn't safe. My message to parents everywhere is to make sure your schools prioritize your children's safety, mental health and well-being. Schools that focus on their culture can reduce, manage, and prevent grievances from happening. Programming that focuses on teaching essential life skills such as coping, connection and compassion is essential; parental involvement is important as well as community support.

Scarlett Davies's son Died at Sandy Hook
Scarlett Lewis with her son Jesse, who was one of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. Scarlett Lewis

After decades of increasing violence, our leaders have proven they can't fix this. So let's rise to the occasion and reach out to those who need help. Let's ensure our children are receiving essential life skills education and practice the same at home. Let's see our communities come together and prioritize healthy families; physically, mentally and emotionally.

I would tell all parents to be present with their children. Relish it. Many of us do not have the opportunity. But I would like to tell the parents of Uvalde this: we hold your hearts.

We weep with you and for you. Your loss has ripped the fabric of our country. Your children did not die in vain. I, and many others, commit to positive action in support of you, each other, our families and our schools.

We will not stand for one more life to be sacrificed to inaction and we will continue to prioritize our children's safety and well-being. Nothing else is more important. This is our future.

And I want to say this: I am so terribly sorry, dear parents of Uvalde. You will want to give up, but please do not.

"Have a Lot of fun," together is another message left by Jesse for his older brother. I believe we are becoming increasingly distracted and fearful as a society, and we must come back to being attentive and mindful of each other.

Let's choose love over fear. Let's take responsibility for creating the safe schools and communities we want to live in and thus bring about a more peaceful and loving world. Please don't let another decade go by. We can, and must, be part of the solution.

Scarlett Lewis is the founder of the Choose Love Movement. You can follow her on Twitter @ScarlettMLewis or @ChooseLoveM.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.