On the morning of December 14, 2012 the parents and children of Newtown, Connecticut went through their usual routines. Jesse Lewis was picked up by his father, they went to a local deli to get his favorite breakfast sandwich: sausage, eggs, and cheese and a hot chocolate. However, before he got in the car with his father he left a message on his mother’s car. It was a cold morning, and in the frost on the car window he drew with his finger and wrote “I love you” (www.courant.com).
Jesse’s mother, Scarlett Lewis, was planning to go to the school later that day to help out in her other child’s class, where they were going to make gingerbread houses. She took a picture of Jesse that morning smiling next to his artwork on her car window (www.dailymail.co.uk). She did not realize that morning that her son would never come home again.
This is the incredible story of Jesse Lewis, a 6 year old boy from Newtown, it is a story of courage, sorrow, pain, loss, hope, reconciliation, kindness, mercy, nurturing, and love. It is a story that I am honored to help tell in my own way, with dignity and respect, in a manner that will honor his memory.
Full of life
The family friends of Jesse Lewis describe him as being full of life, adventurous, and happy. His favorite toy was the soldier, and he was known to wear an Army helmet, ripped jeans, and boots to romp around in the fields of his rural Connecticut surroundings (www.newyork.cbslocal.com).
I remember doing the same thing back when I was Jesse’s age, I would “play Army” with my friends in the woods near our respective homes. Jesse was a typical boy, who liked to run around and get dirty.
Other family friends describe Jesse as someone that would leave a mark on your heart once you met him (www.newyork.cbslocal.com). It is those types of statements that compel sadness and this extremely deep hurt caused by the tragic events at Newtown, now one year ago. The loss is just so hard to comprehend because most of the victims were children, innocent children.
Bravery in action
On December 14, 2012 at approximately 9:30 AM, Adam Lanza fired several rounds from an automatic weapon in order to blast a hole in the entrance door to the Sandy Hook Elementary School (www.cnn.com).
Lanza opened fire in the first classroom he entered killing the teacher and 14 children. He then entered Jesse Lewis’s classroom which was led by 27 year old teacher, Ms. Victoria Soto.
The Hartford Courant was the first to report Jesse’s actions and put together a timeline based on information provided by the Connecticut State Police and other eyewitnesses. Ms. Soto had the children hiding in a closet in the back of the classroom, the gunman shot and killed her. He opened fire in the classroom killing six children, and when his clip of ammunition had run out, Jesse ran out of his hiding spot and yelled “Run!” to his classmates.
The other children ran past Adam Lanza to safety, in all 11 children from Jesse’s class survived, and at least six escaped based on Jesse’s actions. The gunman loaded another clip, and fired a shot into Jesse Lewis’s head killing him instantly (www.courant.com).
In the months following the tragedy, stories of many heroes emerged on that horrible day, but the story of Jesse Lewis struck a chord with me. Here was a 6 year old child, who had just witnessed his teacher get killed, and he stepped out into danger to help his friends. I cannot comprehend such bravery in a dangerous situation from a child. Jesse had the courage to face the gunman and the awareness to know that he had a window of time to save others, what a completely selfless act.
In a variety of media reports, his parents have discussed that in the days since the event they are proud that their son died in the way that he lived: fearless and brave. They have discussed their healing process from losing their son, which I cannot comprehend how difficult that must be for them.
Nurturing, healing, love
Scarlett Lewis decided to start a foundation in honor of the memory of her son, Jesse, and the inspiration behind the foundation was from a message that Jesse had left on the kitchen chalkboard (www.courant.com).
Jesse had written these words: “nurturing, healing, and love”. The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation encourages communities to do just that: “choose love over anger, gratitude over entitlement, and forgiveness and compassion over bitterness” (www.jesselewischooselove.org).
The foundation develops school-based programs to enable educators to change the culture of aggression and violence into one of calm and peace. To learn more about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, or to make a donation please visit their website: www.jesselewischooselove.org for further details.
Jesse Lewis was described in his obituary as a boy with “an infectious and radiant smile”, and as someone who was “smart and compassionate beyond his years”. I would certainly agree based on his actions during that terrible day last year. I do not have the expertise to comment on the state of mind of the gunman, Adam Lanza, I do not have any comprehension of how he could have carried out this horrible, senseless act before taking his own life at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I do not think we will ever know the real reason why he choose to carry out this violent act, let alone involve innocent educators and children.
The people of Newtown have requested that the media leave the town alone on Saturday so that they can mourn and grieve those lost in a private manner. The families of the victims have asked that Americans consider doing an act of kindness that day in remembrance of their loved ones who were lost.
Before I close with some reflective thoughts, I would like to share with you some poetry I wrote on that tragic and emotional day, and in the days since:
“The Low Sun Over the Trees”
My wife said with a sad voice;
“I thought we would never see another Columbine”
I wish I had the power to make the choice.
A day, normal, unsuspecting, with sunshine;
I had appointments, errands to run
Then the news, a school shooting occurred;
A tragic event which would stun –
Myself and everyone. Everything blurred –
By the tears I wept for those lost;
In a Connecticut elementary school today.
The lives that are twisted and tossed
Upside down – there is no explanation, no way
To understand the evil that caused it
As I spoke to my wife late in the afternoon
The information is coming in bit by bit.
Christmas will come to us soon
To lift the spirits of some
Those children will never forget.
No matter how many years are to come;
There are some things time will not let.
I hope that God hears my pleas
As I watch the low Sun over the trees.
Twenty seven are dead today
By the gun of a sick young man
I asked my sisters to pray –
With me to understand God’s plan.
A Connecticut school filled with children
Filled at one time with laughter, joy
You just never know where or when
This one day, one act, it would destroy.
Through the hallways bullets were flying
Images, things no child should see
Children, huddled, screaming and crying
In the end twenty seven are dead
Many of them between the ages of 5 and 10
I can’t think of it, the sense of dread
You never know what will happen
In this crazy, fallen world today
Moving forward will be a difficult road
Some may never find their way
Others will block out the whole episode
Twenty seven are dead today
By the gun of a sick young man
We all have to stop and pray
In order to understand God’s plan
“Will It End?”
Will it end – this tragedy, this pain?
Just when I think it will –
Something happens, so horrible, so shrill
I listen to others dealing with pain
Will it end? Children killed in school
By a deranged man for no reason
Right in the middle of the holiday season
Will it end? A husband drowns his wife in a pool
Will it end? This disrespect for life
Will the next generation bring change?
The next wave of criminals is born
A world filled with chaos and strife
Will it end? Will it rearrange?
Will societal morals continue to be torn?
Trees grow strong and tall;
An example of beauty of scale.
Humans in love some of us fall
Then we feel we cannot fail
The root of it all is love
It’s the greatest gift –
Endowed from our Creator above
Without it – you’ll feel a rift
My life, through love, has been enriched
The love of family, the love of my wife
Others have lost it, or been ditched
Love has been the root, the stability in my life,
Faith, hope and love there to help when we fall
The greatest of these is love, love above all.
Scarlett Lewis has spoken with the media in the past about living by The Golden Rule. My father used to say it all the time when I was younger, and in fact, we spoke about it just the other day. My father would say, “If people lived by The Golden Rule, this world we be a better place”, if people would love one another it really would be a better world.
This article was being finished when I learned of another school shooting in Colorado down the road from Columbine High School. The reports are that two students are injured and the gunman is dead (www.usatoday.com). This senseless violence has to stop.
We will all have distinct memories in the next few days regarding the Newtown school shooting, and the depths of pain we felt for those lost that day will return. The parents of the children who were so horribly killed that day ask us to move forward from this disaster by being kind to each other, to forgive those who have hurt us in some way in our lives.
We all have pain and suffering in our lives, each in various forms and degrees. We all get angry or frustrated at points as well. We all have days where we may feel tired and lonely or afraid. We have to remember the courage that a boy like Jesse Lewis showed that day, to have the strength to face our own fears.
We have to remember when we feel anger, to do what Scarlett Lewis would ask us to do: choose love. It will honor the memory of those children to choose love and forgiveness in those situations, to live by The Golden Rule: to love your neighbor as yourself. If we all did that, our society would be better, our world would be a better place for us and the generations of children to follow.