I went back to my mother’s house who lived across town and we tried to process our loss. We prayed. We fielded calls and started sharing the news with those closest to us. Mostly we sat in shocked silence. I had the realisation that I had to be JT’s role-model through this experience. I knew he would be watching my every move, listening to every response. I knew as the head of the family I would have to carefully and thoughtfully navigate our way through this tragedy. I tried to be strong.
The first time I cried was when I read the headlines the next morning and realised the extent of what had happened. I opened a text message sent to me overnight from Jesse’s father. Twenty seven people had been massacred that day, including 20 first graders in two classrooms and 6 educators. The young shooter shot his mom while she was sleeping before he came to the school and ended up taking his own life when he heard the police approach. This was one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States. I dropped the phone and began to wail.
We found out a short while later from the police investigation that Jesse’s brave actions had resulted in saving the lives of 9 of his classmates. When the shooter entered Jesse’s classroom he continued his shooting spree, most likely killing his teacher before his gun ran out of bullets. During the short delay and while he was changing his ammunition clip, Jesse called to his friends to run and they followed his command and ran from the room. When the shooter reloaded he killed everyone remaining, including Jesse who we believe chose to stay by the side of his beloved slain teacher.
I think about how in that moment, the school was a war zone. The shooter had a semi-automatic rapid fire weapon and everyone was scattered and scared. And yet, Jesse was able to do what he did, to stand his ground, and die facing the shooter. Keep in mind that what happens to the brain in a fight or flight mode is that it cuts off your reasoning to ensure you simply run. For Jesse to be thinking logically at that point, and standing his ground and calling for his friends to run, gives me comfort because it means he was able to overcome his fear, even to the point that he could perform the ultimate act of courage—which is to lay down your life for your friends.
The following day I made myself a cup of tea and stood for a while at my mom’s kitchen sink, looking out at a bird feeder she had put up so she and Jesse could watch the birds feed. I realised then that Adam Lanza had murdered Jesse but that he hadn’t murdered JT and I. So I was determined that we would be OK, we would turn the tragedy into something to help make the world a better place, and that we would feel joy again. I knew if Jesse could be so courageous, in the face of unmitigated terror, then I could certainly honour his life by living my own and being a part of the solution to the issues that caused the tragedy in the first place...