Don’t Let This Be Your Last Mother’s Day

Nicole holds her son Dylan, who was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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Our guest blogger is Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. She’s the mother of Dylan, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, 2012. Here she shares how Mother’s Day has changed and how she is moving from tragedy to transformation.

On my last Mother’s Day with my son Dylan, he proudly presented me with a handmade card with a drawing of us and special words. “My Mom is special because she senz me to scol.”

That’s what my six-year-old son, Dylan, wrote to me for Mother’s Day 2012. In small letters beneath, an adult has corrected his two spelling errors.

Seven months later, I sent him to school, and he never came home.

Instead, he was shot multiple times and killed in his first-grade classroom, alongside 19 of his classmates and six educators, in one of our country’s worst school shootings.

Last Mother’s Day Card from Dylan

I still have the card, with Dylan’s 6-year-old handprint, stamped in pink above a stem and leaves made from green construction paper. But I’ll never again get to hear his infectious laugh or hold him in my arms.

My surviving son, Jake, then a third grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School, is now 17 and in his senior year of high school. I’m grateful for every day and every minute I get to spend with him. I know how fragile life is and how quickly a tragedy can take away the ones you love.

Gun violence and school shootings shouldn’t happen. They are preventable – if we care enough to act, learn the warning signs of someone planning self-harm or violence to others, and intervene.

If We Care Enough, We Can Stop Violence

I know prevention works because the organization I lead, Sandy Hook Promise, teaches youth — and the adults around them — how to do this. Because of that training, we’ve averted eight credible school shooting plots. Additionally, more than 70 acts of school violence involving a firearm. On the whole, we’ve also helped thousands of students receive the mental health support they needed when feeling overwhelmed or suicidal.

It’s not just our own research and experience that shows how effective knowing the warning signs can be. Recent analysis of averted plots against schools found they were all prevented because someone who saw a warning sign reached out for help.

Lives were saved in West Virginia when middle school students recognized a warning sign. They saw a 15-year-old classmate on the bus with a gun and reported their concerns to a trusted adult. The classmate later admitted to authorities that he planned to kill someone at school with the gun later that day.

It brings me some degree of comfort knowing there are students we’ve been able to save. But sadly, there is still so much more work to be done as youth are being killed every day in our neighborhoods and our schools.

Thousands More Mothers Grieve Their Children

Already this year, nearly 1,600 youths under 18 have been killed or wounded because of gun violence. Countless more are left to suffer the lifelong traumatic after-effects. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for young people. Youth death by suicide continues its horrific escalation.

Each year, thousands more mothers grieve their children on Mother’s Day instead of celebrating. Rather than receiving construction paper flowers, they’ll be wiping away tears as they place roses on their child’s grave. For all the moms like me, my heart bleeds with you. Ours are wounds that will never heal.

Though our children are gone, let us come together to honor them with our action to prevent gun violence from taking more children from their parents.

Gun Violence Can Happen to Anyone

For the mothers fortunate enough not to share this awful experience, please don’t be complacent. Gun violence is indiscriminate. It can happen to anyone, at any time, in any community. I know because I was once as guilty as everyone else.

I was ironing some clothes when the news broke that a dozen people had been murdered in a mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater. My heart broke, but like most, I moved on and almost forgot about the shooting. A few months later, my beautiful butterfly Dylan was dead.

How You Can Help

Prevention is a simple yet critical part of the solution and one that we can all be part of. Only if someone had said something, my son and so many other children might still be with us today. Knowing the signs and reaching out for help may sound like too small of action for such a huge problem, but it’s proven to work.

Act now, learn the signs, and help end the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our country so all moms can keep experiencing the joy of receiving those precious, handmade cards.