NEWTOWN, Conn. — Scarlett Lewis says she is amazed that, though it has been nine years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that claimed her son's life, her pain remains fresh and raw.
"I still cry every day," Lewis said. "But I think that I process my pain through action."
She created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, in memory of her son.
"Sharing Jesse's story and creating programming that can reduce and prevent the issues that we're seeing," Lewis said.
That includes violence, substance abuse and mental illness.
"We’ve had 350 school shootings in the past nine years since Sandy Hook," Lewis said. "We’ve had 28 this year."
"We have a behavioral health crisis among our adolescents," noted Dr. Kirsten Bechtel, a professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine with Yale School of Medicine.
Bechtel, who is also faculty in the Center for Injury and Violence Prevention at the Yale, said there’s been great progress in the nine years since the Sandy Hook tragedy, in terms of addressing access to firearms by youth and by those, who have significant behavioral health challenges.
"But I think we need to do sort of now is shift gears and look at what we’re doing to address the mental health you know the behavioral health or mental health challenges of our youth," Bechtel said.
"It’s something that we will never forget," said Connecticut State Police Sgt. Christine Jeltema, who is a graduate of Newtown High School.
She also specializes in trooper wellness. Many of course responded to Sandy Hook.
"Myself and Trooper (Rodney) Valdes, who is our peer support coordinator, we have been in front of our troopers during rollcall and letting them know we are there and that we have resources," she.
Jeltema's brother and sister-in-law are both firefighters for the Sandy Hook Fire Department. So, they were among the first responders at the school. What was especially tough for them was a family member was the school secretary at the time of the shooting. Thankfully, she was uninjured.
Lewis said she's realized after nine years that her service is a big part of her healing.
When she returned home, after learning her son was among those killed, she saw a message that Jesse had written on their kitchen chalkboard. It was three words: nurturing, healing, love.
"And I made this simple realization really that if the shooter had been able to give and receive nurturing, healing, love, that the tragedy would never have happened," she said.
She also talked of the courage displayed by little Jesse in his final moments.
"When he stood up to the shooter when the gun ran out of bullets and called for his classmates to run and ultimately, he’s credited with saving nine of his classmates' lives before he died," his mother said, proudly.
Lewis said every single one of these school shootings is 100% preventable and that it’s not enough to be reactive.
"It’s not enough to harden the schools, to do active shooter drills, to put in see something say something programs," she said. "All of that is good. But clearly, it’s not enough."
Lewis said beyond the school shootings the issues that are plaguing children and adults include substance abuse, suicide, mental illness, anxiety, depression and violence.
"We’ve had a 30% increase in homicides last year and that is on our streets of America," Lewis said. "We’ve had a 30% increase in overdoses."
She said the root cause of this is pain and the ability we have to face our pain, "to learn from it, to grow through it, to be strengthened by it, and then to use what we’ve learned to help other people."
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