It’s a day when many Americans talk about where they were when they heard the news. A young man had shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School. The shooter killed 20 children and 6 adults.
Not everyone remembers what they did afterward.
That night, while most people were still reeling in horror from the tragedy and waiting to learn the names of those that had died, members of the Newtown, CT community were gathering.
Within 24 hours, Lee Shull gathered with a group of around a dozen friends on Holcombe Hill in Newtown. While this gathering served as a connection to cry, commiserate and support each other, Lee knew that wasn’t enough. Lee said, “We need to do something.’’ His statement was not rhetorical. Lee did something.
Over the next several days, Lee and others helped lead gatherings in the community. What started as around a dozen people swelled to over a hundred Newtowners. All wanted to “do something.” Their goodwill and intentions were strong. As a result, several different groups were formed.
Some, like Po Murray, left to join others in the community to create Newtown Action Alliance and channeled their energy toward legislative and political change. Others created groups to specifically support the 26 families whose loved ones were killed. Some chose to support the community at large. Others focused on different ways to support the community’s surviving children and teachers.
A core group of around 17 people worked with Lee to form a group originally called Newtown United. They reached out to the 26 families whose loved ones were slain and coordinated meetings for them. This gave interested families an opportunity to foster relationships with each other, and learn about Newtown United and their platform for families to advocate for whatever they wanted to do.
Nicole Hockley, Mark Barden, and Bill Sherlach were among those families that wanted to learn more. They wanted to advocate for change in the areas of gun safety, mental wellness, and stronger communities. They helped officially launch the organization, now named Sandy Hook Promise on January 14, 2013, just one month after the tragedy that took the lives of Nicole’s son Dylan, Mark’s son Daniel, and Bill’s wife, Mary, the school’s psychologist.
The organization started its journey learning the causes of gun violence and determining their mission of how to prevent future tragedies in honor of the lives taken.
Many Newtowners brought their talent, passion, and hard work to help the group move forward. These extraordinary volunteers did everything they could, from planning events to setting up IT systems, scheduling travel and more. The names of these amazing community members form a very long and beautiful list. We are grateful to each and every one of them.
Lee and a few others went even further. Some took leaves of absence or vacation from their employment. Others joined the new organization full-time or as Board members. They worked with some families to support Sandy Hook Promise and give the start-up nonprofit the help it needed.
That core group – including people like James Belden, Tom Bittman, Rob Cox, Suzy DeYoung, Paul Lundquist, and Lee Shull – are Sandy Hook Promise’s fathers and mothers. We could not have turned Sandy Hook Promise into the life-saving, national organization it is without their help on those first steps.
For that reason, they will always be our founding Promise Champions. They will forever be in our hearts.