Survivors of Sandy Hook massacre graduate high school and remember classmates

Emma Ehrens speaks at a rally against gun violence just days before the high school graduation ceremony. Credit: CNN Newsource

Survivors of the Sandy Hook massacre are set to graduate high school and remember the classmates they lost in what was one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

In December 2012, 20 children were killed at the school in Connecticut by a 20-year-old gunman armed with a semi-automatic assault-style rifle and two handguns.

Six teachers and administrators were also killed during the attack.

Graduating high school senior Emma Ehrens said she’s trying to prepare herself for a range of emotions – the joy of leaving school, nerves about what’s next and reflecting on what should have been.

Local residents join survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting for a rally against gun violence. Credit: AP

“Thinking about all the what ifs: what if they were sitting next to me at graduation, what if we were still friends, where would we be? It’s just going to be a lot of what ifs in my head,” she said.

Emma was six years old and looking forward to making gingerbread houses when the attacker entered the school.

She thought the popping noises were from roof construction work, until she saw the gunman.

“A guy – armed – came into my classroom and started shooting all of my friends and my teachers and my classmates,” she said. “His gun jammed and a friend of mine, Jesse Lewis, yelled at us to run and that’s what we did.”

Survivors of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting hold signs during a rally against gun violence. Credit: AP

Jesse, who was just six years old, was killed.

Grace Fischer hid with her friends in another classroom, feeling scared, she said, but not sure about what, until police officers escorted them out to safety at the fire station next door.

“When we got to the firehouse, we had to line up by grade and that’s when my teacher was like, this is really not OK,” she said. “Because when we lined up by grade, half our grade was missing.”

Gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the US with shootings inside schools continuing to claim the lives of students and teachers.

In the future, Grace will attend Hamilton College in New York, with plans to focus on law and justice.

“I really want to make sure that they know I’m doing something,” she said of her classmates who had no chance to graduate.

“Even though they’re not here anymore, there are people who survived that are really trying to push for them. Because their lives were lost so early and I went through that at such an early age, I feel like it’s my purpose to continue my life in honour of them.”

Grace and Emma have campaigned for gun violence prevention and have met with Vice President Kamala Harris and other national leaders, as well as survivors and victims’ families from other school shootings.

During their graduation, they, along with their classmates, will be wearing green and white ribbons on their gowns, each inscribed with “Forever In Our Hearts”.

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