Scarlett Lewis knows exactly what she would do if she could see her forever 6-year-old son, Jesse, again.
"I picture that reunion and I think all I would do is just hug him as tightly as possible and say over and over: 'I love you,'" Lewis tells TODAY.com. "I don't think I'd be able to let him go."
Though she can envision that moment clearly, she also knows it won't happen in her lifetime.
Ten years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, twenty 6- and 7-year-olds and six staff members were shot to death inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Jesse was among the victims.
“I would give everything I have for even one split second with him alive,” Lewis says, “but that’s not going to happen.”
The 6-year-old was shot with an AR-15-style rifle inside his classroom, after he yelled for his classmates to run away as the shooter reloaded. Jesse's actions saved nine of his classmate's lives.
"I think about that bravery every single day," Lewis says. "Every morning when I get out of bed."
'He was incredibly brave'
Lewis says Jesse was obsessed with all things camouflage.
"He loved pretending like he was a little soldier," she explains. "He had camo boots that were winter boots, but he wore them all year round. My friend gave him a little Army set of plastic figurines, and he played with them all the time."
The Army set came with a plastic camouflage helmet Jesse wore all day and even to bed.
"I'd peel it off his sweaty head as he went to school," Scarlett adds. "I'd tell him: 'You can't wear that to school.'"
Jesse used to hide his plastic Army men around the family's farm. Ten years later, Lewis is still finding rogue figurines.
"He would just create forts everywhere," she explains. "I still find little Army men coming up from the dirt from different places where he would play with them. It just reminds me that we had so much life and loudness with Jesse just bounding off the walls with vibrating energy all the time, and it spread out to the four corners of the property."
Lewis says she has never really allowed herself to consider what her son would be like if he had been given the opportunity to grow into the 16-year-old boy he should be today. But she says she has no doubts about who he would have become.
"I believe that he would have been a soldier or a first responder, a police officer or a public servant in the role of protector," she says. "I have no doubt, because he was incredibly brave."
Fighting Alex Jones and his lies
Shortly after the shooting occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones spread a slew of lies and disinformation, claiming the shooting was staged, Lewis was a paid actor and that her son, Jesse, did not exist.
His conspiracy theories spread widely, and 10 years later, Lewis is still dealing with the repercussions. In August, she confronted Jones in court during a defamation trial.
“I wanted to tell you, to your face, because I wanted you to know that I am a mother, first and foremost. I know that you’re a father,” Lewis told Jones at the time. “And my son existed. You’re still on your show, today, trying to say that I am — implying — that I’m an actress. That I’m ‘Deep State.’ You have. This week. And I don’t understand.”
On Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, Jones was ordered to pay Jesse's father, Neil Heslin, and Scarlett $4.1 million for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In a separate trial, Jones was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to Sandy Hook families and an FBI first responder.
"I do see a shift," Lewis says, when asked if she believes the lawsuits against Jones for spreading conspiracy theories will help to stop the spread of disinformation.
"I absolutely see that Alex has lost credibility with a portion of his audience," she adds. "I do see less harassment happening, not only to myself but to other families. I see that other people are watching the repercussions of spreading lies. I believe (the verdict) sends a powerful message, and I see it working."
The decision to sue Jones, Lewis says, was a direct result of her son's parting message to her — three words Jesse had written on their kitchen chalkboard that she found shortly after he died.
"Norturing Helin Love," the message read. Jesse had done what every 6-year-old is taught to do: He spelled out "Nurturing Healing Love" as it sounds.
That message has guided Lewis through life, inspiring her to start the Choose Love Movement, an organization dedicated to creating "Safer and more loving communities" in and around schools through a series of character, social and emotional development programs.
"Part of my decision to hold (Jones) accountable was that I felt like he was acting in direct opposition to what my mission is, which is to keep kids safe," Lewis explains. "If you're out there, spreading a lie that Sandy Hook never happened; that I'm an actress; that Jesse never existed? Well, those may be truths that are easier to accept for some people, but it's not the truth. There is one truth, and that's the fact that it happened and we need to do something about it."
'He's still here'
Lewis has traveled the world spreading Jesse's message with her Choose Love Movement, her book, "Nurturing Healing Love" and her additional mental health and school safety work. After 10 years, Lewis says her program is now in over 10,000 schools in every state and is "the most taught social-emotional learning program in some states."
"It has impacted millions of kids in 120 countries," she adds. "It's just so powerful, and I'm so grateful to have been put on this path by Jesse and the message that he left for his family."
On the 10-year anniversary of the day her son was taken from her, Lewis says she plans to do what her family does every year: Gather at Jesse's grave, light candles, read bible verses and inspirational quotes and say a prayer.
"We recommit ourselves to having the courage that Jesse showed on that day and to spread his message of nurturing, healing love," she adds.
She says she always feels her son with her. She recalls a moment she consoled two of Jesse's grieving friends months after the tragedy.
"Their mom asked if her kids could talk to me, because they were having a really hard time," she recalls. "They were really missing Jesse and suffering. I said sure, so they came into the kitchen, their eyes downcast and sad. I asked them to each share their favorite thing about Jesse.
"That perked them up a bit, and one had a twinkle in his eye," she adds. "They shared, and I told them: You know what? Those things are still here and they're still with you. What you're describing is love, and it's still there and he's still all around you. You can access him any time that you want, not in the form that you want — we want that physical form; the one we're used to and see and feel and touch and experience — but he's still here."