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They got to grow up; their little brothers never did. Sandy Hook siblings, 10 years later

On the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, two siblings reflect on the loss, and the love, that never left them.
JT Lewis with his little brother, Jesse. After Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, JT says, he was always aware that he was all his mom had left. He didn't do sleepovers or overnight camp. "I can't take risks. That's what it felt like for me," he says.
JT Lewis with his little brother, Jesse. After Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, JT says, he was always aware that he was all his mom had left. He didn't do sleepovers or overnight camp. "I can't take risks. That's what it felt like for me," he says.Courtesy Scarlett Lewis

On the 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, two siblings spoke to TODAY.com to reflect on a decade of grief, anger, bravery and the ever-present love they carry for the little brothers who were stolen from them.

JT Lewis, 22, remembers sitting in his 7th grade Spanish class in Newtown, Connecticut, when his middle school went into lockdown on Dec. 14, 2012.

"We were all huddled in the back of the classroom, getting little pieces of information here and there," JT, who was 12 at the time, tells TODAY.com. "I remember the teacher getting a call and looking worried, but I didn't think much of it. We had been doing lockdown drills my entire childhood."

Excited about the prospect of being able to go home early, it wasn't until JT was taken to the firehouse for the "reunification process" that he realized something was horribly wrong.

"That scene was chaos — helicopters circling overhead, reporters, SWAT, police, EMT," JT says. "That's when we found out that Jesse had died."

Forever 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, all smiles.
Forever 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, all smiles.Courtesy Scarlett Lewis

JT's younger brother, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, had been shot and killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School along with 19 of his young peers and six school staff members.

Related: Links to all the organizations Sandy Hook victims' family members set up, and how to support them

"We didn't go home for a long time — I don't really remember how long, but we went to my grandmother's house," JT recalls. Family members from Boston started to arrive, and before JT realized it 30 people — friends, family members and neighbors — were filling the space inside his grandmother's home.

"People were just hanging out and being present," he adds. "Neighbors cooked meals and took care of our house while we were gone. There was an outpouring of love. And what was interesting is as the weeks went on, the people dissipated and we were back to the core group: Me, my grandmother and my mom. We were back alone, and that's when it really set in — what this loss was going to be like."

What struck me most was just the overwhelming sense of love that we were surrounded by, even out of all the darkness.

Danielle Rogus, 28

Danielle Rogus, 28, does not like to talk about the day her little brother, 6-year-old Noah Pozner, was shot and killed. What she does like to discuss, she says, is what JT also experienced in the aftermath — support and love.

"What struck me most was just the overwhelming sense of love that we were surrounded by, even out of all the darkness," Danielle says. "People came out of the woodwork, whether it was friends I've known for years or complete strangers I had never met on social media, sending me beautiful expressions of love and support. I drew strength from that, and that was something that really helped me move forward."

Noah Pozner
Noah Pozner, 6, killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting on Dec. 14. 2012. AP

On the 10-year anniversary of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, both Danielle and JT opened up about the past decade and how the violent deaths of their brothers shaped their lives.

'You feel like you'll never feel happiness again'

Danielle was 12 when her brother, Noah, was born.

"I remember holding him in the hospital, just looking down at him," she recalls. "Even as a baby, he had really dark eyelashes that were just so beautiful — I remember that...I remember most just the love that I had for him right away."

Danielle remembers Noah being full of energy; he loved playing video games and watching "Star Wars."

The world stops, and all you can feel is this immense pain.

danielle rogus

"He loved the color blue, I remember that really well, and I remember us watching movies together, playing a game on the Wii together or just spending time together," she adds. "Those are the memories that I really miss."

Danielle was 18 when her brother was killed, and she recalls feeling like it would be impossible to "move on."

"You feel like you'll never feel happiness again," she says. "The world stops, and all you can feel is this immense pain. It's really hard to navigate your way through that."

Sign posted at the Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home in Fairfield, Connecticut, as folks lined up for the funeral of Noah Pozner
People lined up outside the funeral home before the service for Noah Pozner on Dec. 17, 2012.John Woike/Hartford Courant / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

For Danielle, "moving forward" after the shooting meant getting involved in gun violence prevention advocacy; she says it felt like a way to "make sure Noah's death would not be in vain."

"I was trying to be a voice for my younger brother, who had his own voice stolen away," she adds. "That was something I was really proud of."

The worst possible thing had happened, so what did I have to lose?

DANIELLE ROGUS

Milestones of growing up take on new significance when you've lost a sibling. In the summer of 2013, Danielle packed her bags and moved to Austin, Texas for college.

"That moment of packing up and getting ready to go — it was just a moment of pride and a way to forge a new path for myself; to move forward from the tragedy while keeping Noah with me," she says. "That moment meant a lot."

She says it's possible the tragedy brought out a sense of bravery in her, one that persists to this day: "The worst possible thing had happened, so what did I have to lose?"

'You feel like you have to be tough for your mom'

JT was 6 when his baby brother was born, and his first impression was that the baby was "too loud and all over me."

"It was probably pretty annoying for me," JT jokes, "But it was good, too." He remembers they had just started playing soccer together, which was fun.

I had to be super careful with whatever I do, because I’m the last child left at this point. I can’t take risks. That’s what it felt like for me.

jT lewis, 22

JT and Jesse's mom, Scarlett, was a single mom.

"Without Jesse, well, it's just been me and my mom for the past 10 years. It's tough," JT recalls. "As the oldest son in a single parent household, you feel like you have to be tough for your mom.

"That was me at 12 years old," he adds.

JT says that even before Jesse's death, he didn't usually attend sleepovers or stay away from home for any significant amount of time. After the shooting, he felt the responsibility to be home even more.

"After Jesse died, I felt like I had to be there, right? I had to be super careful with whatever I do, because I'm the last child left at this point," he says. "I can't take risks. That's what it felt like for me."

JT and Jesse Lewis, wearing their cowboy best.
JT and Jesse Lewis, wearing their cowboy best. Courtesy Scarlett Lewis

Knowledge of the moments before Jesse died has also shaped JT's life.

Jesse shouted at his classmates to run while the shooter was reloading. His act of bravery saved nine of his classmate's lives.

It inspired JT to share his brother's story and start his own charity, Newtown Helps Rwanda, an organization that has helped pay genocide survivors' way through college.

No one ever takes a minute to just thank Jesse, which makes me sad. That's how I genuinely feel, especially 10 years later.

JT Lewis

It has also, at times, made him angry and resentful.

"That's one of the main reasons I'm doing this interview right now ... I will always take the chance to spread that story of courage and heroism," JT says. "It's a tough thing, because I see the survivors out there talking and that's nice, but no one ever takes a minute to just thank Jesse, which makes me sad.

Related: Sandy Hook survivors reflect with hero teacher 10 years later

"That's how I genuinely feel, especially 10 years later," he adds. "I don't think one of the kids he saved, one of their families, has reached out over the last 10 years, and that's a crazy notion."

As JT focused on school safety advocacy and his own charity, he also graduated from the University of Connecticut with a political science degree and is now pursuing script writing. Currently, he has his own series on YouTube which he writes, produces and films.

Jesse Lewis, wearing his favorite camo winter boots in the summertime.
Jesse Lewis, wearing his favorite camo winter boots in the summertime.Courtesy Scarlett Lewis

'Luckily, I have all those beautiful memories'

On the 10-year anniversary of her brother's death, Danielle says she plans on lighting two candles — one blue, her brother's favorite color — and taking the time to "process and just be."

"The way the world is today, we don't take a lot of time to just be and check in with ourselves," she adds. "I plan to do all of that, and to just remember. Luckily, I have all those beautiful memories, and lighting the candles feels really good to me — very peaceful and very calming."

Danielle also plans on revisiting some of the most joyful times of her life over the past 10 years, including her October wedding.

A sycamore tree stands at the center of memorial to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Nov. 13, 2022.
A sycamore tree stands at the center of memorial to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.Bryan Woolston / AP

"It definitely was the most joyful day of my life," she says. "I had a few ways that I honored Noah, too. One that I'm comfortable sharing is that we had an empty seat at our ceremony, and a picture of Noah and a little bouquet— just a way to honor him and make him present without him being able to actually be present.

"It's hard to think he is frozen in time as a 6-year-old," she adds. "He would be 10 years older now, and probably completely different. The most heartbreaking part lies in the fact that he never got to be 16 years old."

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