NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) – Ian and Nicole Hockley lived across the street from Adam Lanza, but they never got to know him or his family before the 20-year-old gunman killed their young son and 25 other people inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In the weeks since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, the couple said they have wondered whether more community involvement in Lanza’s life might have prevented the bloodshed.
“If I had reached out to them, would things have been different? I don’t know,” Nicole Hockley said. “I do have a regret there, without a doubt. But would it have made a difference? I will never know.”
Coming together has been a popular theme at vigils and concerts held in tribute to the 26 people killed inside the schoolhouse. For some of the families who lost loved ones, a renewed focus on community would be a silver lining to the tragedy.
The Hockleys are among the families working with Sandy Hook Promise, a local grass-roots group dedicated to the idea that community members could support each other and turn “tragedy into a moment of transformation.”
Tim Makris, a co-founder of the group, said it has been facilitating community meetings, meetings with other communities that have been involved in gun violence, and meetings with groups on different sides of the political debates on such issues as gun control. He said everyone agrees the bloodshed should not have happened, and that is a starting point.
“We are creating a dialogue and different thinking, and therefore common ground,” he said.
The parents of another shooting victim, Chase Kowalski, have started a foundation in the hope of building community centers in his honor, first in Newtown, and then in other communities.
“We would like to see families get back to core family values,” Rebecca Kowalski told WTIC-AM. “It’s not about dropping your kid off at some place to play. It’s about going with your child and playing with that child and being an intricate part of their lives.”
Lanza has been described as a loner who lived with his divorced mother and enjoyed playing violent video games. He killed Nancy Lanza inside their 3,100-square-foot home, shot his way into the school on Dec. 14, gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators, and committed suicide as police arrived, according to investigators.
The Hockleys, whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed, have since moved to another neighborhood in Newtown.
They said they and others are now more focused on getting to know the people around them.
“This community has pulled tighter together and responded in helping not only the 26 families, but the survivors and the first responders, and just neighbors,” Nicole Hockley said. “The way they are all reacting to each other, that isn’t a short-term change. It’s one horrible, tragic event, but it’s not destroying this place. It’s showing how perhaps we could have been more before, but also how we should continue to be going forward.”
Monsignor Robert Weiss of the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church said he’s seen estranged families reconciling, strangers hugging on the street and neighbors meeting neighbors for the first time. Weiss, who officiated at the funerals of eight children killed in the shooting, said he hopes that can be a legacy of the tragedy.
“The civility of this society is really disappearing,” he said. “I would like to go back to a gentler time. Life is hard; it’s harsh. If in our everyday activities we are just so cruel and harsh to each other, how is that going to take us anywhere?”
The Hockleys said they also feel it is important, especially as people begin debating issues such as gun control, for people to put aside personal agendas and try to find common ground.
“There hasn’t always been a lot of respectful conversations taking place, and I’m disappointed by that,” Nicole Hockley said. “We’d like people to honor the Sandy Hook promise by listening more before jumping in.”
Ian Hockley said he believes the world is watching to see how Newtown rises from the shooting.
“We want to be a part of that,” he said. “I want people to come back in a year’s time and see what we’ve become. Because, they were here at our very worst and to see the town in a year’s time, what will change in terms of community and what we will build. Then you can be a template.”
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