- Uvalde has brought back painful memories for parents who have lost kids in school shootings.
- Four such parents spoke to Insider about the heartache they felt in the Texas shooting’s aftermath.
- “It was like reliving Sandy Hook again for me,” one father said.
Several parents whose children were killed in past school shootings offered solace and guidance to grieving Uvalde parents as they reflected on the agonizing journey that awaits the families impacted by last week’s mass shooting.
“There are no words,” said Patricia Oliver, whose 18-year-old son Joaquin was killed at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018. “There’s no situation that can give you that peace, that person that you lost back.”
Last week, an 18-year-old gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 21 people, including 19 children and two teachers, all of whom were in the same fourth-grade classroom. The massacre is the latest in an ever-growing list of school shootings that have exposed more than 300,000 American school children to gun violence in the past two decades.
The impacted Uvalde families now join a terrible but increasingly populous club of parents who have lost children in school shootings.
Four parents whose children were killed in the 2018 Parkland shooting and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre spoke to Insider in the aftermath of Uvalde, sharing their outrage and heartache at the all-too-familiar scene unfolding in Texas.
Stirring painful memories
It’s been nearly ten years since Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis’ 6-year-old son Jesse Lewis was murdered in his 1st grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. But watching the Uvalde tragedy unfold brought the painful memories instantly flooding back.
“I can’t help but think, what I went through,” Heslin told Insider. “It was like reliving Sandy Hook again for me.”
Heslin is all too aware of the impossible tasks that await the Uvalde families: planning funerals, battling political agendas, and laying their small children to rest.
“It’s a long, long process and you never get over it,” he said.
The wounds are still fresh for Lori Alhadeff, who lost her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa Alhadeff at Parkland in 2018.
“It really brings back all the emotions from four years ago,” Alhadeff said.
Oliver, whose son was also a victim of the Florida shooting, said the Uvalde attack made her feel like her son’s murder had just happened that morning.
Once a family is unwittingly forced to join this awful club, it’s important that they realize that their healing journey will be lifelong and non-linear, the parents said.
“It’s like a roller coaster. You know, one moment you could be fine,” Alhadeff said. “The next moment you’re walking in a grocery store and they could be playing music on the radio and it just emotionally breaks you down.”
Each person will cope differently, too, Oliver said.
“Everything is valid. You know, if you want to go out and dance, it’s valid. If you want to get drunk, go on, do it,” she said. “But you have to…be you and drain that pain that is gonna be with you, sadly, for the rest of your life.”
Sending love and strength
The small town of Uvalde — like Parkland and Newtown before it — has been descended upon by authorities, journalists, and do-gooders in the aftermath of last week’s shooting.
But the media circus will eventually die down and the country will move on to the next inevitable catastrophe, leaving the families alone with their grievance, the parents told Insider.
“When the world leaves and when the friends and family leave, that is when the real healing work begins,” Lewis said.
Lewis, who started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement following her son’s death, said she found comfort in knowing that the country and the world mourned with her.
“Not only adults, but mostly children sending notes and offers of condolences and prayers,” she said. “That helped tremendously.”
Alhadeff encouraged Uvalde parents to take care of themselves and surround themselves with loving and supporting people as they grieve.
“Your friends, family, the community loves you, supports you and will help you move forward,” she told Insider.
Oliver, who knows these parents’ pain, said she was sending Uvalde “love” and “strength.”
“You don’t think that you’re going to survive, but you do survive,” Lewis said.