Life After Newtown: Families Share Their Stories
A MESSAGE FROM MY SON
Scarlett Lewis spent a few weeks at her mother's house after her son Jesse, 6, was slain in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But "once I got back home, I saw that Jesse had written something before he died," she tells PEOPLE. "It was a message on the chalkboard in the kitchen … He had written the words 'Nurturing Healing Love' ... I felt like it was a message directed to me, for my comfort and inspiration."
AN ANGEL WATCHES OVER THEM
Noah Pozner's twin sister, Arielle, 6, talks about her late brother in the present tense. "She says happy things like, 'He loves Oreo cookies,'" mom Veronique tells PEOPLE. "Their sister Sophia, who is 8, is a little more aware he's not coming back. She'll talk about him being an angel watching us have dinner ... Nothing is ever going to be the same from that day forward."
A SEARCH FOR ANSWERS
Robbie and Alissa Parker, parents of 6-year-old Emilie, decided to meet with gunman Adam Lanza's father after he reached out to them. But as expected, even hearing answers to their questions didn't heal wounds. "Lately, it's been difficult," Alissa says. "I miss saying her name, talking to her, touching her ... For Valentine's Day, our daughters Madeline, 5, and Samantha, 3, wanted to send her valentines in heaven, so we wrote notes and sent them up in balloons."
A ROOM FOR JOEY
"When I moved to Massachusetts for my job, we moved all of Josephine's belongings to a room we set up," says Bob Gay, whose 7-year-old autistic, apraxic daughter was among the victims. "We have photo collages that people made and pictures of her and her two sisters." Adds wife and mom Michele, "We call it Joey's room ... She was amazing and now we want to keep her love going."
LIVE AS OLIVIA DID
"Olivia was a little girl who loved everything about life," mom Shannon Engel says of her 6-year-old. "She loved to put on rain boots to play in our brook. She loved dressing up in princess gowns and having a tea party … Her joyful spirit touched so many, and now we want people to live as Olivia did." Adds husband and dad Brian, "It could be as simple as holding a door open … That's what Olivia would want."
SENDING A SENTIMENT
After 6-year-old daughter Catherine's funeral, "we had to put our dog Samantha to sleep," says Matt Hubbard. "We asked [her] 8-year-old brother Freddy if he wanted to say anything to her. He got down on his hands and knees and said, 'Just say hi to Catherine for us.' He believes we are all going to see Catherine again."
"It comforts us to know Dylan, who was autistic, died in the arms of his teacher's aide, Anne Marie Murphy, who was trying to shield him," the 6-year-old's mom, Nicole Hockley, tells PEOPLE. "We got to know her family afterward, and they gave me her staff ID. Now our two families are joined together forever."
"Our last morning, I was walking Daniel's brother James, who's 13, down the driveway to the bus ... I hear little footsteps behind me, and it's Daniel running in his pajamas and flip-flops," Mark Barden remembers of his 7-year-old son. "'I wanted to give James a hug and a kiss goodbye,' he said. Afterward I told him he could go back to sleep before going to school, but he said, 'No, Daddy, this gives us more time for cuddling.' Those were the last few hours of his life."
LOTS OF LOVE
"I was walking out the door to leave for work that morning when for some reason Jessica came down the stairs and said, 'Daddy, I just want to say goodbye to you,'" Rich Rekos recalls of his 6-year-old. "I had some sort of premonition. Am I going to die in a car crash? I never in a million years thought it was anything related to her. I'm tormented by how it happened and how horrified she must have been."
THE FIRST RESPONDER
For Sergeant David Kullgren, the day's horrific happenings are "still hard to comprehend," he says. "I've seen events that are engraved in your brain. This was a lifetime worth of disturbing events squeezed into minutes. Now we as a community need to work together, to find our new normal and to be whole again. None of us will ever be the same."
DOCTORS WITH A PURPOSE
Following the events of Dec. 14, Dr. James Bruno – who has a child at Sandy Hook – and Dr. Bill Begg spoke to Congress about gun control on Jan. 30. "I realized that as a doctor in Newtown whose daughter could have been taken, I had a unique perspective and a responsibility to speak up," Bruno says. Adds Begg, "We don't want to violate anyone's Second Amendment rights, but we are in a position to understand the issues surrounding firearms."