StoryCorps EXTRA: Remembering Sandy Hook
Michael Garofalo (MG): Hey there, podcast listeners. It’s Michael Garofalo for the StoryCorps podcast and this is a StoryCorps podcast extra. And the reason we’re bringing you this story today is that it’s the 5th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. It was December 14, 2012 when a shooter opened fire at the school, killing six teachers and 20 children.
Avielle Richman was one of those killed. She was just six years old. To mark the 5-year anniversary, Avielle’s parents – Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel – recorded this remembrance of their first child for StoryCorps.
Jennifer Hensel (JH): Avielle was not supposed to be in school that day. We had already made plans to go to New York City to see the Rockettes, but they were building gingerbread houses in the classroom that day, and she really wanted to go. I remember my phone rang with the emergency alert from the schools.
Jeremy Richman (JR): It was just chaos, trying to figure out what was going on.
JH: I remember just searching and searching for her.
JR: We organized a list for families that couldn’t find their kids. There were 29 or so on there. They found a couple more kids that had ran, so that made it 26 and then it just stayed at 26. And so then I knew.
JH: You grabbed my shoulders and you looked me in my face and said, ‘I need to tell you this before you hear it from someone else, Avielle is probably dead.’ And I said, ‘I can’t leave until I see her. I’m her mom and that’s my job. I have to see her.’
JR: Yeah, we never got to see her. What do you miss most about Avi?
JH: The weight of her arms on my body when she’s hugging me. And her cheeks.
JH: It was hard for months, and it’s turned into years. And it’s hard all the time.
JR: I’m always thinking about this. Every waking moment, and a lot of times while I’m sleeping that it’s always there.
JH: How has Imogen’s birth changed you?
JR: I remember being really worried about, and I still am, what we’re going to do to explain to her… she can walk around the house and see her sister’s pictures. How many little kids grow up visiting a gravestone?
But I just remember being so happy that we finally were able to get pregnant and not have an only child, but to have two.
What are your biggest fears about raising them?
JH: Even though it’s statistically not probable, I fear that they will be shot. But I’ve never really been ruled by fear. I will do my best to give them the tools to not live in fear.
MG: That was Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman remembering their daughter, Avielle, who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago today.
After Avielle’s death, the two started a neuroscience foundation that conducts brain research in order to understand how violence works – and find ways to build compassion.
We’ll be back next week with another full episode. Until then, I’m Michael Garofalo and this is the StoryCorps podcast. Thanks for listening.