Flanked by fellow grieving Sandy Hook parents and an enlarged photo of her late daughter, Nelba Marquez-Greene explained why she has taken the Sandy Hook Promise.
“On Dec. 14, I put two children on the bus and only one came home,” she said. “I pray that no mother, father, grandparent or caregiver of children ever have to go through this pain.”
That is what members of the organization Sandy Hook Promise hope to achieve through their mission, which was explained in detail at Edmond Town Hall Monday morning. It was exactly one month since a lone gunman killed before turning the gun on himself in one of the worst acts of school violence in the nation’s history.
Members of the organization, which has applied for non-profit status, explained to hundreds of media outlets that they have no set agenda at this point other than to help enact positive change and try to prevent another tragedy from happening again. They have not taken an official stance on gun control debates that have erupted in the wake of the shooting. They have not pushed for particular school safety measures. And they haven’t asked for specific changes to the mental health system.
Parent Nicole Hockley, whose son, Dylan, was killed in the Sandy Hook shool shooting, said she doesn’t know what the necessary changes are to make our society safer.
“I come with no preconceived agenda,” she said. “I do believe there is no quick fix, no single action, but instead a multitude of interlinked actions that are needed.”
With that in mind, members of Sandy Hook Promise are looking to garner support from people all over the world. They are asking people to visit their website — www.sandyhookpromise.org — and promise that “this time there will be change."
The website’s homepage says:
"I promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions to make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.”
"This is a promise to do everything in our power to be remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as the place where real change began," Nicole Hockley said.
'I Don't Want There to be a Next Time'
The pain is still extremely raw for Nicole Hockley.
“Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday; other times it feels like many years have passed. …It’s so hard to believe he’s gone,” she said. “I still find myself reaching for Dylan’s hand to walk through the parking lot, or expect him to come crawling in to bed for morning cuddles before he goes off to school.”
She said some her suffering has been eased by the tremendous outpouring of support from people all over the world, in particular those who have been through similar tragedies in Aurora, Texas, Columbine, Colo., and Blacksburg, Va.
People in those communities, whose hearts were also broken by a maniacal gunman, have done their best to pay forward the graciousness they, too, received after their respective tragedies.
But Hockley hopes she will never have to console another grieving family after a school shooting.
“I do not want to be someone sharing my experience and consoling someone next time; I don’t want there to be a next time,” she said.
'Doing Nothing…No Longer an Option'
Sandy Hook Promise wants to open a dialogue about responsible change. Its members want people to discuss their concerns with Congress, with their state officials, with each other and with their children around the dinner table.
Sandy Hook Promise co-founder Tom Bittman said people need to look within themselves to see how changes can be made.
“There are steps government can take. There are laws Congress can make,” he said. But in order for real change to come, he said, “We have to fundamentally change our approach. It’s not just what government should do. It’s not just what I should do. It’s not just what you should do. It’s what we should do together.”
He said that if Sandy Hook Promise fulfills its mission, then Newtown will be remembered for change, not this tragedy. He said the Sandy Hook shootings should be recalled as a turning point when communities across the country bonded and forged real change.
“Doing nothing is no longer an option,” he said. “We have let this happen too many times. If we want real change, we have to think, we have to act, and we have to talk differently."
While topics such as gun control and politics have been discussed since Dec. 14, Sandy Hook co-founder Tim Makris brought it back Monday to heart of the matter: how changes should ultimately help people.
“Children deserve to wake up in the morning unafraid to go to school,” he said. “Parents deserve to know that when they send their kids off to school in the morning, they are going to come home.”