In the darkest of tragedies, transformation can abound. Ann Sandercox and Amy DeLoughy, two Sandy Hook parents linked by their community’s darkest of days, share their decade-long connection that blossomed after 12/14.
Nearly a month after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, where 20 children and six educators were killed, Newtown families had to do the unthinkable: prepare to send their children back to school.
The bus stop, for Amy DeLoughy and Ann Sandercox, was not somewhere any families were willing to return. Neighbors of Nicole Hockley‘s, whose son first-grader Dylan was killed in the tragedy, the parents decided to move the location. “Dylan loved to play tag at that bus stop,” Amy says. “He always loved to be the tagger, and the kids all went along with it and had fun. (After 12/14) there was no way they could go back to that stop.”
A community engulfed in pain and fear, getting their children back on the bus to school was no easy task. Ann says it was one of the hardest things any one of the parents had done.
“We’d arrive with hot cocoa and donuts, anything to get the kids on the bus,” Ann recalls. “We needed each other to do that, and to support each other as moms. We’d talk for hours, still standing at that bus stop. We needed that time to begin to heal.”
It was in those early, dark days, where neighbors found the power in community and a path through grief.
An Immediate, Unbreakable Bond
The morning of December 14, 2012, surviving Sandy Hook students were hurried to the firehouse, where parents reunited with their children or learned the unthinkable — that their children’s precious lives were taken by gun violence. Gratefully, Amy and Ann had found their children. But the devastating wounds to their community were already wide open.
In those desperate hours, Amy and Ann held hands and hearts with Nicole and other Sandy Hook anguished parents who awaited the seemingly impossible, devastating news. “At one point, I realized, all these people in this room with us are here for the same reason,” Amy says. “Their children are missing, their mother is missing, their wife. It felt like forever.”
In the days of grief that followed, Amy and Ann reconnected at Dylan’s celebration of life. They knew that their shared community trauma had established something deeper between them.
“We were neighbors, but our real connection did not start until after 12/14,” Ann says. “Amy and I both knew we had been with Nicole that day and continued to carry her heart with us. We began to check in with each other, on our kids, and had walked a similar path that horrible day. It was an immediate connection.”
Amy and Ann knew their growing friendship had a foundation rooted in invaluable support that was keeping them afloat. Soon, the idea to simply start walking and talking seemed like a natural next step to elevate their healing.
The Power of Movement and Connection
Amy and Ann began walking for an hour a day, at times bundled and layered during harsh Connecticut winters, leaning on each other through their 12/14 memories. Life’s additional hardships mounted, with health challenges and losing loved ones blending into their conversations. Violence in the news also required constant support. “There were more shootings, and every shooting we cried,” Ann says. “We didn’t understand how it could keep happening. We grieved together and understood each other.”
Amy and Ann had both considered moving their families after the tragedy. But the power of community compelled them to stay. “We became more family than neighbors through this tragedy,” Ann says. She credits Amy for helping her hold on to hope. “I know as a mental health professional, it has to go somewhere (the pain), “she says. “I think we just metabolized a lot of our trauma by talking and walking and it didn’t get stuck. It was a gift that Amy was in my life to help me hold and process so much of what was happening with our community, our kids, and all the pain. Still to this day it’s huge. I can’t imagine where I’d be without her and our walks and talks.”
Amy says her friendship with Ann has grounded her no matter what is going on in her life. “I often say to people that there is not a guidebook on how to get through life,” she says. “Just knowing I have someone who I trust, without judgement for anything that’s going in my life, Ann has done that for me. I don’t refer to her as my neighbor anymore. She is a trusted friend. This gift we have with each other helps us get through every day of our life.”
The Road Ahead: Making an Impact
When 12/14 happened, Ann had just started her graduate program in social work and immediately needed to take a leave of absence. She cared for her family and made sure they had the resources and support to begin to heal from the trauma. As she gained footing, she knew that finishing her degree to become a licensed social worker was more critical than ever.
“I needed to give to others what so many had given to us, “Ann says. “People dropped what they were doing and showed up to come to our town, to listen to our stories, to grieve with us, to help us carry what could not be fixed. They were the light in our darkness. If I could offer anyone an ounce of what I had received by holding space for someone else’s story or pain, I knew I had to try.”
Amy continues to be amazed that the simple act of walking and conversation had so positively impacted their lives. “Having a safe space to share, get non-judgmental feedback and support, and to provide the same for someone else (in my case Ann) has truly been a gift for me,” she says. “I can’t imagine moving forward these past 10 years without that. I hope our story encourages others to listen and share more, and most importantly, to support others around us.”
Making the Promise
Amy and Ann value their bond and ability to hold space for each other and vow to always do so for others. Making connections and allowing that space is one of the best ways we can honor the victims of gun violence and prevent further tragedies from happening.
Join the millions of people who’ve already made the Promise to protect children from gun violence and create safer, healthier, more supportive communities.