AGE 17




A national nonprofit organization founded and led by family mem- bers of students killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, Sandy Hook Promise has a mission to “build a national movement of parents, schools and community organizations engaged and empowered to deliver gun safety programs and mobilize for the passage of sensible state and national policy.” Members run mental health and wellness programs that identify and help at-risk indi- viduals. So far, 3.5 million parents, educators, community leaders, and students have completed Sandy Hook Promise trainings, and 2.5 million American’s have signed their promise: “I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools and communities.” To find out more and get involved, go to

On December 14, 2012, something unthinkable happened. A twenty- year-old in Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother while she slept, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he had attended years earlier, where he shot and killed six adult staff and twenty six- and seven-year-old children. Then he shot himself.

Because he used a semiautomatic rifle, the whole thing took less than five minutes.

The Sandy Hook massacre was the deadliest elementary or high school shooting in history, with the youngest, most defenseless victims. Afterward, law enforcement discovered that the shooter had severe untreated mental illness. He also had access to deadly guns and ammo in his home. His mother, a gun enthusiast, legally purchased all the guns he used in the shooting. They were kept in a gun safe, which the shooter had access to.

The town of Newtown was devastated by the shooting, espe- cially the families of the murdered children. Natalie Barden was in the fifth grade when it happened. Her school went on lock- down that day, but she thought it was just a drill, like so many others. When she got home that afternoon, her parents delivered the horrific news: her little brother Daniel, at just seven years old, was killed in the shooting. Five years later, Natalie’s memory of that moment is crystal clear: “I still remember my [other] brother and I screaming and crying, both in the utmost pain imaginable.”

After the shooting, Natalie couldn’t fathom trying to fix the gun violence problems that led to her brother’s murder. She was a fifth grader. “All I wanted was to be normal and not constantly reminded of my loss. I left the fighting to my dad, who started Sandy Hook Promise, confident that his efforts in gun-violence prevention would create the change that was needed” (see chapter 13). Natalie and the other young survivors focused on healing from their trauma and moving on with their lives.

The town of Newtown moved on too. Sandy Hook Elementary School was demolished a few months after the shooting, and a new school was built. On every December 14 since the shooting, the town has asked media to stay away and teachers at Newtown schools stick to a regular schedule—just another normal day.

Years passed, and as the youngest survivors started middle school and the oldest went to high school, they realized that the grown- ups had not solved the gun violence problem—in fact, it was getting worse. When Natalie first heard about a gun violence prevention club being started at her high school by fellow students Jackson Mittleman and Tommy Murray, she thought, “Why am I not in that club?”

The first meetings of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance were disappointing, however. Only a few students showed up, and it was emotionally draining to talk about gun violence when they had been through a school shooting themselves and some, like Natalie, had lost loved ones. It was hard to get kids involved.

Then the Parkland shooting happened.

The Sandy Hook survivors watched as Parkland students imme- diately grabbed the media spotlight and demanded change from America’s leaders, even as they were reeling from their trauma.

They watched the Parkland teens launch a national youth-led gun reform movement. Natalie remembers this as a turning point: “I thought, if these kids are able to speak about this topic so soon after this tragedy, I can join them by adding my voice.”

She began doing media interviews and writing articles about her brother’s death. She was invited to a Teen Vogue summit for young leaders in the gun violence prevention movement.

Natalie wasn’t the only Sandy Hook survivor inspired by Parkland. The next Junior Newtown Action Alliance meeting was packed—more than one hundred kids showed up ready for action. First, the group focused on beefing up their social media presence, to show other teens who they are. They launched humansofnewtownct on Instagram, where survivors tell their own stories from the shooting.

That summer, just months after the massacre at their school, the Parkland teens embarked on a two-month Road to Change bus tour across America. They met with teens and victims of gun violence, registered young voters, and educated students about the gun issue. Their final stop was at Newtown, where the two groups of survi- vors met for the first time. It was an emotional meeting. Natalie explains their shared passion: “Parkland was a reminder that what happened in Newtown is still happening, and not nearly enough has changed in the almost six years between the two tragic events.”

The Junior Newtown Action Alliance has been busy ever since. They’re organizing voter-registration drives and urging young peo- ple to vote for candidates who support stricter gun laws. They are asking lawmakers to change current gun laws:

  • Ban semiautomatic magazines that can hold dozens of bullets.

  • Close loopholes in background check laws.

  • Provide a way for courts and law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others. (See chapter 10 for details on these solutions and more.)

In an essay for Vice magazine, Newtown student activist Jenny Wadhwa wrote, “What people need to realize is that we’re not scared of mental illness or unarmed guards. We’re scared of guns and inaction.”

The Sandy Hook survivors, like the Parkland students and other young activists, have found their voices. Their group is harness- ing their power to make change happen. They do not want to see another Sandy Hook or Parkland happen ever again.

Learn more about what Natalie and the other Sandy Hook activists are working on and get involved at humansofnewtownct

on Instagram

and on Facebook at


Natalie's Reminder to Young Activists

"This new generation wIll enact change because we have no choice. we cannot sit back as too many are slaughtered on a daily basis. We stand together, and we are not backing down until we feel safe in our own country.”