Sandy Hook shooting victims would have graduated from high school on this day: ‘So mournful’

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Graduation season can be bittersweet for a lot of seniors, but many of the 2024 graduates of Newtown High School in Connecticut are carrying a heavier burden.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School shook the nation as one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history on Dec. 14, 2012, according to the Associated Press (AP).

During the incident, 20 first-grade students and six educators were killed.

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Of the 330 students graduating from the district’s high school on the evening of June 12, 60 are walking across the stage as survivors.

The AP spoke with a few survivors, including Lilly Wasilnak, 17, who was in a classroom down the hall from where her fellow students were killed.

“I think we’re all super excited for the day,” she said. 

“But I think we can’t forget … that there is a whole chunk of our class missing.”

“And so, going into graduation, we all have very mixed emotions — trying to be excited for ourselves and this accomplishment that we’ve worked so hard for, but also those who aren’t able to share it with us, who should have been able to.”

Emma Ehrens, 17, was one of 11 children to survive the attack in Classroom 10. 

She managed to flee gunman Adam Lanza as he paused to reload, but five children and both teachers in the room were killed.

emma ehrens speaks at a rally against gun violence

Ehrens said her graduation day will be filled with “a lot of mixed emotions,” the AP reported.

“I’m super excited to be, like, done with high school and moving on to the next chapter of my life,” she said. “But I’m also so … mournful, I guess, to have to be walking across that stage alone … I like to think that they’ll be there with us and walking across that stage with us.”

Psychological impact

Many of the survivors have said they’ve experienced PTSD, anxiety and depression, spending years in therapy since the incident, according to reports.

Dr. Cameron Caswell, an adolescent psychologist in Washington, D.C., sympathized with not only the survivors but also the victims’ families, she told Fox News Digital.

WHAT HAPPENED AT SANDY HOOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ON DEC. 14, 2012?

“The upcoming graduation ceremony for Sandy Hook survivors will likely be a poignant and emotionally charged experience,” she said. 

“In addition to mourning the child they had, they may grieve for the child they were supposed to have,” she added, referring to the parents. 

Newtown Memorial

Caswell suggested that the families may grapple with “the weight of unfulfilled potential,” such as unreachable milestones, college dreams, future careers and the “simple joys of growing up.”

“The celebratory atmosphere of the ceremony is likely to amplify the absence of their child, creating a profound sense of ‘what if,’” she said. 

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“They [the parents] may imagine their child participating, sharing in the excitement and reaching a life stage forever stolen,” Caswell told Fox News Digital. “This occasion may also evoke a complex mix of emotions beyond sadness, such as jealousy, anger or guilt.”

She encouraged parents of the victims to allow themselves to feel and express “whatever emotions come up.”

sandy hook parents walk away from the scene of the shooting

“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve and no required end date,” she said. “Talk about your child, share stories, hopes and dreams.”

She also said, “Lean on other parents who understand your pain. Support one another and share your experiences. This can be a powerful source of strength.”

“This occasion may evoke a complex mix of emotions beyond sadness, such as jealousy, anger or guilt.”

Caswell also advised parents to set necessary boundaries and prioritize their needs during this time. 

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“It is not your responsibility to make other people feel comfortable,” she said.

children and their parents pay tribute to sandy hook shooting victims

For the parents of survivors, Caswell suggested starting a conversation with the parents of victims and asking about the children they lost.

“Give them your full, undivided attention,” she said. “Ask open-ended questions and avoid interrupting.”

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“Notice if they seem overwhelmed and offer practical support, such as getting them a tissue or water, without needing to be asked.”

She added, “Acknowledge their emotions and allow them to express their feelings freely. Don’t minimize their experiences or compare your own feelings.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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