Five years ago, on a crisp December morning, 20-year-old Adam Lanza went into his mother’s room and shot her four times in the head, killing her instantly. The deranged man then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, stormed in through the front doors, and began to open fire upon the unsuspecting six and seven-year-old children starting their school day.
Lanza murdered 20 young kids along with six staff members. The senseless brutality of the crime is almost inconceivable and left this smalltown Connecticut community in absolute ruins. As first responders closed in, Lanza realized there was no way out and turned his weapon on himself.
There would be no justice in this horrific crime. No-one would be held to account – only the languishing pain of the grieving would serve as a reminder of that fateful day.
I don’t know about you, but when the news broke of the shooting, my immediate reaction was utter fury – an unadulterated rage over the fact that this sick individual could “get away” with such an evil and heinous crime.
Remarkably, however, over the five years that have elapsed, some of the parents of those killed have been making a conscious effort to forgive Lanza. One of them is Scarlett Lewis, the mother of murdered six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who helped save the lives of many of his classmates on that fateful day.
“The time that I break down, and I really am at my lowest, is when I think about the massiveness of that tragedy. It is almost too much to bear,” Scarlett explains in a powerful video at NBC (see below).
“Jesse was like a little cuddle bug. His energy filled every corner of the room. He would literally come downstairs ever morning and would be jumping on the couches.”
Scarlett detailed the astonishing heroics of her son as Lanza approached his classroom with murderous intent.
“When the gunman came into Jesse’s room, his gun either jammed or ran out of bullets. During the short delay, Jesse called to his classmates and told them to run,” she explained. “They said because he told them to run, they ran, and he was able to save nine of his classmate’s lives before losing his own.”
“That bravery of Jesse’s has really helped me, because I think about that every day when I wake up.”
Throughout these past five years, Scarlett has been journeying through an excruciating process of forgiveness. For a long time, she felt as if her anger towards Lanza was doing more harm than good, and she realized she needed to make a conscious decision to let him go.
“I felt like I was attached by almost like an umbilical cord to the shooter right afterwards,” she recalled. “All of my personal power drained out of me in the form of anger. And through this cord into the shooter. I was dragging him around with me everywhere.”
“Forgiveness for me was like a big set of scissors. I took those scissors and I cut this cord that attached me to the thing that was hurting me. It doesn’t mean that thoughts don’t creep in and other things don’t make me angry.”
Then, as she prepared to say goodbye to Jesse one final time, Scarlett noticed a message her little boy had scrawled across their kitchen chalkboard. These three striking words changed everything.
“I was coming home to the farmhouse the first time to get Jesse’s clothes for the funeral. On my way out I came upon this message that Jesse had left on our kitchen chalkboard. He wrote three words: “nurturing, healing, love.”
“When I saw those words I knew that was not something that was in Jesse’s vernacular,” Scarlett continued. “I knew that was meant as a message of comfort for his family and friends.”
As she mulled over these three powerful words, her thoughts started heading towards the shooter himself.
“I also knew that if Adam Lanza could have given and received nurturing, healing, love, that the tragedy would never had happened. It was in that way that I began to feel compassion for him,” she said.
For many, it is jarring to hear Lewis call the gunman by name. Others choose to pretend he never existed, to refuse him a name as if to strip him of any humanity – for a human would not commit such a crime. But Scarlett sees it differently.
“The reason I say Adam Lanza’s name is because I think that it’s vitally important that we remember that he was a human being too. And he was in a tremendous amount of pain.
He experienced bullying. He wasn’t born a mass murderer, he was cultivated into what he became by his environment. We need to remember that.”
Scarlett went on to pioneer the Choose Love initiative; an educational programme based on four key character traits: courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion in action. The website reads:
“The Jesse Lewis Choose Love MovementTMcollaborates with professional educators to bring lasting meaning to Jesse’s murder by developing school-based educational programs to change our current culture of violence to one of safety, peace and love for everyone in our world.”
Yet Lewis is also quick to highlight her desire to see this movement reach those troubled children who would otherwise choose the path of pain, resentment and even violence.
“Everything that I do on a daily basis in this ‘Choose Love’ movement, I do for my son and the other victims, but I also do this for the Adam Lanza’s of the world,” she explained.
“I didn’t write this story, I didn’t start this story, but I can write the ending through forgiveness.”
Watch the remarkable story below.
In his last moments 5 years ago this week, her son saved lives at Sandy Hook. With her every moment, she works to spread compassion – even for his murderer. http://on.today.com/2ArkbBW
Posted by NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt on Monday, December 11, 2017