Saturday, February 24

Texas shooting leaves Sandy Hook survivors with anger, grief and a personal sense of failure

NEWTOWN, Conn. — As her eyes welled with tears, Abbey Clements held her former Sandy Hook second graders and apologized for a deadly school shooting nearly 2,000 miles away in Uvalde, Texas, that she had nothing to do with.

“I failed,” she told them, nearly 10 years after she pulled them into a classroom coat area and sang Christmas songs in a futile attempt to drown out the gunfire blaring from the loudspeakers.

“I’m trying,” Clements whispered to the students, who are now 16. “I’m so, so sorry.”

During the emotional embrace Wednesday, the students reassured Clements that there was nothing she could have done to stop an 18-year-old gunman from murdering 19 children and two teachers who were trying to protect them Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

But eerie similarities between that massacre and the Dec. 14, 2012, attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School have left multiple survivors in Connecticut with renewed anger, grief, and an overwhelming sense of personal failure that they haven’t been able to spur more change in a nation plagued by gun violence.

“The worst part about it is that my students who ran out of Sandy Hook School and who survived the tragedy, they are watching this happen over and over,” Clements said. “My generation has let them down. It’s a horrible burden to bear.”

Abbey Clements in Newtown, Connecticut, on May 25, 2022.Sarah Wilmer for NBC News

Since 2013, at least 94 people have been killed and 132 injured in 51 school shootings, according to the latest tally by NBC News, which has been tracking school shootings since 20 children and six faculty members were killed at Sandy Hook.

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On Wednesday, there was an increased police presence around schools in Newtown, as parents made difficult decisions about whether to keep their children home.

Venelope Gil, a school bus driver, was torn about sending her daughter, a kindergartener, into Sandy Hook Elementary School that morning. Along her route, she saw signs that she was not alone in her doubt of her.

While shuttling other students to school, Gil nearly broke down when she saw a mother get out of her car to hug her twin second graders before they left for school.

“She never really gets out of the car. That touched me a lot,” Gil said. “I know a lot of parents had the same fear.”

The day before, as details out of Uvalde began to emerge, parents who live and work in Newtown were coaching sports practices, attending meetings and otherwise trying to live as normal of a life as they could since their worlds came crashing down in 2012.

They would all eventually hear the news that a young, male gunman had opened fire inside an elementary school in Texas after shooting his grandmother in the face.

“It was hauntingly similar to Sandy Hook,” said Nicole Hockley, whose 6-year-old son Dylan was killed in the 2012 attack.

When she heard the news, Hockley was in a large meeting with other leaders of her nonprofit, Sandy Hook Promise, which works to prevent gun violence. Hockley said one team member burst into tears, while she and co-founder Mark Barden, who also lost a son at Sandy Hook, braced themselves for the trauma they knew would follow.

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“It brought us back to 12/14 in a more direct way than any shooting has,” Hockley said. “And every shooting does re-traumatize us and make us relive that day, but this was really far too present.”

Hockley and Barden ended the meeting early.

Candice Bohr, who has thought about the Sandy Hook shooting every single day for the last 10 years, was coaching soccer to second and third-grade girls when she found out.

“I was at a loss for words. It was like a punch in the gut,” said Bohr, who runs Newtown Youth and Family Services, a nonprofit that provides the town with mental health services. “I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Do I cry? Do I scream? Do I throw up?

Cyrena Arokium, who was in Clements’ second-grade class that day in 2012, said the Uvalde shooting brought her right back to the classroom coat area, where she and 17 of her classmates hid from the gunman.

She remembers asking her teacher if she could call her mother, and she has vivid details of a classmate next to her sobbing uncontrollably.

Arokium can still see Clements pulling two fourth graders into her classroom from the hallway before locking the door. She can hear Clements trying her best to tell a police dispatcher what was unfolding in a way that did not further alarm her class of her.

“It feels like I relived it,” Arokium said.

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