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A Sandy Hook mom on the fresh pain of every mass shooting

"The violence seems to never end. But it can."

Editor's note: This essay was first published on August 12, 2019. We are re-circulating it today since, unfortunately, it is again all too relevant.

When I hear the news of another active shooting, my entire body tenses and my heart starts to hurt. I am transported back to the day when my beautiful butterfly, Dylan, was killed nine years ago in his first-grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary.

When the shootings are over, I wait to hear the names of the dead and injured. I wait to hear of the warning signs that were given and (often) ignored. While my heart breaks for the victims and their families, my soul aches for our country as we collectively endure yet another tragedy that could have been prevented.

The pain of losing a loved one does not dissipate with time. Nor does the trauma for those that survive. The ripple effects of mass shootings pervade the entire community, even when people may prefer to pretend nothing happened and that everyone has “moved on.”

I am not alone in my pain. Each year, there are tens of thousands of families that join this club that no one wants to a part of.

Nicole and her son Dylan, who was murdered at age 6 in the Sandy Hook school shooting. With every new mass shooting, she thinks of the other victims' families joining a club they, like she, never wanted to be part of.Courtesy of Nicole Hockley

The violence seems to never end.

But it can.

Since Dylan was murdered, I have studied school shootings, mass shootings, and suicides. I know that the majority of them were preventable. Being able to recognize at-risk behaviors, signs, and signals, also known as “leakage,” is critical to intervention and prevention. Signs such as social isolation or withdrawal, strong fascination with firearms, gestures of violence, and overt threats of violence (spoken, written, pictures, videos) are just a few signals that should not be overlooked.

One thing she has learned, Nicole Hockley writes, is that there are usually warning signs before a mass shooting. We just have to heed them.Courtesy of Nicole Hockley

Research shows four out of five shooters tell at least one person before they commit their act and 70 percent of suicide victims also give off warning signs. Through training to recognize and take these signs seriously and act immediately to report them with proven tools, we could be preventing four out of five shootings and 70 percent of suicidal acts.

That’s why I helped launch Sandy Hook Promise — to end gun violence, primarily in schools, by training youth and adults to prevent them, not endure them. We can end these tragedies and protect our communities by recognizing the signs of someone who needs help and taking action.

I know this is true because of the intervention stories I hear every week from the millions we have trained to use our Know the Signs programs and anonymous reporting system. More families will be hugging their loved ones, due to the millions of people who knew when and how to speak up and get help.

I know my work with Sandy Hook Promise has saved countless families from excruciating pain. But I never would have chosen this life. If I could change history, I would want nothing more than to be with both of my boys seeing them grow and thrive.

Saving other families is the only way I can think to honor my beloved Dylan.

While there is so much chatter around gun safety measures, we must focus on preventative steps that will ensure the safety of everyone across the country. We all have the right to feel safe in public spaces like schools, stores, festivals, movie theaters, places of worship, and nightclubs. We have the tools at our fingertips to stop this epidemic. We must stay vigilant and say something when we see these warning signals. Our safety lies in our commitment to protecting one another.

Nicole Hockley is the mother of Dylan and Jake, and is co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise.