Heartbreak & Healing: Man Remembers Girlfriend He Lost in Newtown School Shooting

Sadness and trauma mark the two-year anniversary of the day 20 children and six adults were killed in the second deadliest mass school shooting in U.S. history

Photo: Alessandra Petlin; Rousseau Family/AP

Exactly two years have passed since Tony Lusardi’s girlfriend, Lauren Rousseau, died in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting.

He still thinks about her every day.

“I miss her a lot,” Lusardi, 32, tells PEOPLE. “I think about her all the time.”

Lusardi lost his girlfriend of two years on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first graders and six adults – including 30-year-old Rousseau, a substitute teacher who had dreamed of working at an elementary school since she was a child.

Lanza shot and killed his mother in their home before driving to the school and turning a gun on himself when police arrived.

The school massacre – the second worst in U.S. history – shattered the lives of the victims’ families and their loved ones, leaving the town and the nation reeling.

Two Years Later

In the past two years since the shooting, the victims’ parents and Newtown residents, who formed Sandy Hook Promise, joined with others around the nation to create laws protecting children from gun violence.

But Congress has not passed legislation to date. Since Dec. 15, 2012, there have been at least 94 shootings at schools and colleges – an average of one per week, according to an analysis by Everytown for Gun Safety.

Those closest to the victims are still grappling with the losses they suffered that day. Victims’ families and residents of the bucolic town, including some of the children who were in the school that day, are still traumatized. ”

We’ve found the issues are more complex in the second year,” Newtown Superintendent Joseph Eradi told the Associated Press. “A lot of people were running on adrenaline that first year.”

Compared to the first year, when Lusardi struggled to get through each day without Rousseau, he says, “I’m doing better. It’s so cliché to say time heals all wounds. I don’t really think that time heals all wounds. I think it gives you a good amount of space to get busy with other things and have other things crowd your mind.”

Lusardi has kept busy this year with his job in tech sales and a move to another house. But he says he decided not to attend memorials or events centered around the tragedy that took his girlfriend from him.

“It just got to be too much,” he says. “The amount of things that we all ran around to during the first year was quite heavy. It was emotionally heavy. It wears you down.”

He did attend the May dedication ceremony for a playground, Where Angels Play, built in Rousseau’s honor on Long Beach Island, New Jersey.

Missing Lauren

Lusardi hasn’t had the heart to date anyone since he lost Rousseau.

“I haven’t been putting a ton of effort into that,” he says. “I’m just not up to it for the most part.”

He says he misses going to movies with her, talking to her on the phone and laughing over the many inside jokes they shared. He’s not sure what she would think of the “big, bushy beard” he has grown in the last year.

Losing the woman he loved in such a violent way has certainly changed him, he says.

“I’m more serious now,” he says. “I know I’m joking about my beard, but after something like this happens, you certainly look at things in a much different light. I try to enjoy everything I do every day because you never know what will happen next.”

Lusardi and his family still keep in touch with Rousseau’s parents and brothers. His parents often go to dinner with her mother.

Each June since she died, the two families have celebrated her birthday together – without her there.

On Sunday, flags will be flown at half-staff throughout the state to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the shooting. Lusardi plans to mark the anniversary quietly, possibly with family and friends or maybe just by himself.

“I just want to think about her in private,” he says. “She meant so much to me. It is still so hard.”

As for the future, Lusardi knows that he will feel Rousseau’s loss for the rest of his life.

“People say, ‘Oh, things get better as time goes on and things won’t affect you as much,'” he says. “I don’t know about that. I’ve seen reports where they talk to D-Day or Pearl Harbor veterans in their 90s. When the vet mentions his friend who died, he will start crying. Here he is in his 90s and this happened 70 years ago. Things that happen to you negatively – or positively – resonate with you for your entire life. I will never forget what happened.”

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