Sandy Hook survivors call for gun control as they graduate high school

Students who survived one of the deadliest school mass shootings in US history are graduating high school on Wednesday, as many call for more action on gun control.

Emotions were running high at Newtown high school in Connecticut on Wednesday, more than 11 years after a former student entered Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012 with guns and killed small children, teachers and staff in a massacre that shook the nation.

On Wednesday, 20 seats at the high school graduation ceremony were being left empty in honor of the children who didn’t grow up to see this day because they did not survive one of the deadliest mass shootings in US history and the deadliest at an educational establishment below college level. Six adults who worked as teachers or staff at the school were also killed that day, including the head teacher, and the children who died were all six or seven.

Many who did survive are speaking out against gun violence and calling for more gun control legislation.

In interviews for various news outlets, survivors, who were in the first grade at the time of the shooting, recounted watching their classmates and teachers get killed, and running for their lives.

“We don’t want ‘I’m sorrys’. It’s past that. It’s happened too many times,” 18-year-old Henry Terifay told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. “Your prayers honestly don’t mean anything.”

Terifay added: “It’ll never get easier, no matter how many times I talk about it. Honestly, it’s just time for it to change.”

Emma Ehrens was in one of the classrooms the gunman entered. She told ABC that her class was reading a book together right before the shooting.

“I watched all my friends drop and one of the victims did not make it,” Ehrens, 17, said.

Ehrens said she remembers running out of the classroom.

“On the way, we saw bodies in the hallways and doors blown off the hinges,” Ehrens said. “We just ran and ran and ran, out of the school and out of the parking lot.”

In that same interview, Grace Fischer said she believes the biggest change needed is “regulations on AR-style assault weapons”.

“I think one of the hardest things is getting people to see eye to eye on it. I think that stops a lot of regulation and legislation, which unfortunately is costing more and more lives every day,” Fischer, 18, told the TV show.

The most recent and sweeping set of gun safety laws passed in Congress was in 2022, with Sandy Hook campaigners involved in years of pressure for more change. While the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act accomplished many things such as strengthening background checks and closing the so-called boyfriend loophole that allowed unmarried partners with a history of domestic violence to obtain firearms, many argue the new law did not go far enough. It did not require background checks for all gun transactions or ban assault-style weapons, as Joe Biden and his White House have repeatedly urged Congress to do.

Ehrens and Fischer were among six Sandy Hook survivors invited to the White House earlier this month on 7 June, National Gun Violence Awareness Day, to meet with Vice-President Kamala Harris, who recently became the head of the newly created federal office of gun violence prevention.

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Yesterday, I met with survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting who are now graduating from high school.

Emma, Grace, Matt, Ella, Henry, and Lilly: Thanks for your strength, courage, and leadership.

On Gun Violence Awareness Day, we commit to continuing the fight… pic.twitter.com/VXMqgFFUIT

&mdash; Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 7, 2024

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Yesterday, I met with survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting who are now graduating from high school.

Emma, Grace, Matt, Ella, Henry, and Lilly: Thanks for your strength, courage, and leadership.

On Gun Violence Awareness Day, we commit to continuing the fight… pic.twitter.com/VXMqgFFUIT

— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) June 7, 2024

Harris posted about the meeting on X: “Thanks for your strength, courage, and leadership. On Gun Violence Awareness Day, we commit to continuing the fight for commonsense gun safety laws.”

During their meeting, the now-teenagers shared their stories with Harris of witnessing gun violence.

Ella Seaver, 18, who was also at the White House meeting, told NBC the shooting was “a core memory”.

She added: “It really did take over those really innocent times and it really forced us to grow up so fast when we didn’t need to.”

Lilly Wasilnak, 17, told NBC: “There is a whole chunk of our class missing, so going into graduation we have very mixed emotions.”

Wasilnak added: “We’re 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.”

The Guardian