NEWTOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – Ten years ago, 20 first graders and six educators were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Jackie Hegarty was only 7 years old when the trajectory of her life, and those of her classmates, changed forever. She was a second-grade student at the school.
“It just so happened the first hallway that the gunman had chosen was mine,” Hegarty said. “It was just a matter of what side that he chose. He chose the other side. I was in the first classroom on the (opposite) side.”
Twenty of her fellow students and six educators were killed on Dec. 14, 2012.
“It’s really hard to process that, and I’m still processing that 10 years later,” Hegarty said. “No one deserves to see the things I saw when I walked out or to hear the things I heard.”
The unthinkable tragedy in a quiet Connecticut town prompted loud calls for action and reform. The unrelenting grief and shock many felt from this didn’t put an end to the violence.
Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 1,000 school shootings across the United States.
Hegarty said the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed in May, hit close to home.
“I thought that it wouldn’t have to happen again,” Hegarty said. “People would learn this is something that shouldn’t be happening and make change.”
Hegarty is among those leading the charge for change. She is the president of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance.
“We’ve created an environment where you come before school, we can call senators, we can discuss legislation, we can plan events,” Hegarty said. “Just talk about ways we can fix gun violence.”
The Junior Newtown Action Alliance has been to Washington, D.C., many times and has attended rallies, including “March for Our Lives” this year. They also speak about their experience and connect with other survivors.
The growing number of students joining the group is a disheartening sign of just how widespread the problem has become.
“I’ve met so many amazing people from various communities that have been impacted by gun violence,” Hegarty said. “Hearing their perspective and knowing we are all coming from different experiences but we’re all working towards the same thing gives me a little bit of hope.”
“I think definitely with the progress we’re making lately with the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, banning ghost guns and especially that we’re one of the eight states out of 50 that have banned assault weapons, we’re still looking for federal assault weapons bans, but we’re making progress,” Hegarty said.
Junior Newtown Action Alliance can’t do this work alone. Hegarty is encouraging everyone to join the fight. She doesn’t want another child to walk in her shoes and carry the burden of tragedy that will follow her forever.
“Just don’t be intimidated by it because, at the end of the day, we’re all going to make a difference,” Hegarty said. “I think the more people we have, the bigger the impact.”