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Sadness: My enduring Sandy Hook emotion

10 years later, we continue to grieve, reflect on the power of resilience, and appreciate our first responders


Firefighters pay their respects at a memorial for shooting victims near Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.

AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

It has been 10 years since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Now, as then, the emotion that engulfs me is sadness.

On the evening of the mass murder of innocents, I sat at the dinner table with my grade school children, just home from our neighborhood elementary school. I fought back tears trying to explain words like murder, active shooter and assault rifle. I struggled with the guilt of being able to lovingly embrace my kindergartener and second-grader as I joined a nation grieving for the lives of 20 children and six adults ended far too early. We were so sad, and through additional tragic school shootings in the subsequent years, the sadness of Sandy Hook has never left me.

Today, I am sad for the children and adults who were killed, their families and their friends. At the time, we knew the years ahead would be filled with grief and challenge, but I didn’t know the recovery and attempts to return to normalcy would be complicated by conspiracy theorists making baseless charges of crisis actors and cover-ups. I wish peace and privacy to the families and friends who are mourning and remembering today and into the future.

Today, I continue to be sad for the public safety personnel who responded to Sandy Hook hoping to rescue children and save lives. As we soon learned, there was little they could do but help survivors reunite with their families and act as caretakers to a devastated community.

Today, contributing to my sadness is the fact that in the past 10 years, we have put most of the burden of active shooter incidents on public safety personnel to respond quickly, act heroically, and save traumatically injured children and adults with little more than their bare hands, tourniquets and chest seals. In the aftermath of dozens of active shooter incidents and hundreds killed and wounded, the best we’ve been able to do as a society is mantras like “Run, Hide, Fight” or “Stop the killing. Stop the Dying.” Almost nothing has been done to change the underlying conditions and systems that allow young, mentally ill individuals intent on mayhem and murder from easily acquiring assault weapons.

Today, I have a sense of hope for survivors of school shootings who are often resilient and purpose-driven. The parents, teachers, classmates and siblings of Sandy Hook Elementary School children have galvanized movements to make schools and communities safer, lobbied successfully for state and federal legislation, and received judgment against those who have slandered them with malicious lies about their children. Words can’t capture my admiration and appreciation of their efforts over the past 10 years.

Today, I also have appreciation for the EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, 911 dispatchers and police officers who collaborate with principals and teachers to better assess risks, intervene sooner when a student threatens violence and respond faster to school violence. Sadness can hold us back, but it can also motivate us to do all we can to minimize future suffering.

Finally, today, as we did 10 years ago, pull your kids in close, give them a hug like it might be the last time, and refocus sadness into caring, compassion and remembering.

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1, EMS1 and Gov1. Greg has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, paramedic and runner. Greg is a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Ask questions or submit article ideas to Greg by emailing him at and connect with him on LinkedIn.