Newtown Victim Honored in New Songs

Scarlett Lewis's letters to musician Alex Woodard is part of his new book and a new album of healing music

Photo: John Woike/Hartford Courant/MCT/Getty; Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation/Scarlett Lewis/AP

Scarlett Lewis suffered every parent’s nightmare when a gunman opened fire on a December morning in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing her six-year-old son, Jesse, and 19 other children. Now, months later, a San Diego-based musician is helping her celebrate Jesse’s short life with three new ballads.

“Jesse is a song to me, a beautiful melody that God gave me the music for and helped to write the words here on earth,” Scarlett, 46, wrote in a letter to author and musician Alex Woodard. “His is a song about grace, beauty, light, and love, always.”

Inspired by the heartfelt words in her letters to him and in a letter she wrote to her son after his death, Woodard penned the songs about the mother and son as part of his new album, For the Sender: Love Is (Not a Feeling), which accompanies a book of the same name and debuts on Feb. 25.

Touched by an Angel

Woodard says he couldn’t help but to be moved by the choices Scarlett made following the death of her young son. “This mother suffered an unbelievable loss,” says Woodard. “The ordinary choice would be to be angry and vengeful. But she made the extraordinary choice to lead with love and forgiveness.”

He was touched even more when he learned that Jesse died moments after Lewis says he saved the lives of nine of his classmates when he reportedly urged them to run while the shooter was reloading his gun.

“When I heard that, I thought, ‘This child made an extraordinary, selfless choice in that single second,’ ” Woodard says. “While I was putting together a video for this project Scarlett sent me so many images of Jesse growing up and you could clearly see that he was a confident kid with a big personality. I could see him being the kid who stepped up to save his classmates. That moved me deeply.”

Celebrating a Young Life

The book and 13 songs that Woodard penned with songwriter Molly Jenson, New Found Glory front man Jordan Pundik and legendary songwriter Jack Tempchin (who wrote The Eagles’ hit, “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”) are based on letters written not only by Scarlett, but also by four other people with varied experiences.

“These are real life stories of people who have found comfort, courage and purpose through the everyday actions of love,” he says.

When Woodard and Jenson played “Celebration” for Scarlett and her son, J.T., 13, for the first time, Scarlett says, “It resonated within me so much that I started singing it,” she tells PEOPLE. “It’s like I knew the words already. It was such a loving thing for them to do for us. I felt like this song – and the others they wrote – were such beautiful gifts to J.T. and me.”

Listen to “Celebration” below:

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