NEWTOWN, Conn. (WTNH) – They were just kids when the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened.
Their town was quaint and comfortable until it was rocked to its core. Now young adults, five Newtown High School students, Jenny, Maya, Rory, Mary and Emily, are still trying to comprehend what happened while fighting for what they believe in.
They are joining a nationwide movement of young voices making sure they’re heard and refusing to be defined by a tragedy that has tried to hold them captive for the past five years.
Jenny Wadhwa is now in eleven grade. She remembers every detail of December 14, 2012, especially fearing for her twin sister, Maya’s, life.
“All the sudden, the worst thing in the world came to our town, Newtown,” Jenny said. “Newtown, the most picturesque town in Fairfield County.”
“You can’t go a day without thinking oh my gosh, where are these children?” Maya reflected. “Why aren’t they with us?”
They have been scarred by the wounds that took 26 lives that day.
“Their lives stopped, our lives stopped because of it,” Maya continued.
They feel a stigma only felt by an intimate group of people affected by mass shootings.
“We’re part of a club, a really exclusive club that nobody wants to be a part of,” Rory Edwards said.
Rory, now 18, will soon go to college where he’ll study to become a doctor.
“People treat you differently, they see you differently,” Mary Sortino shared.
Mary is a sophomore at Newtown High School. She says our nation has become numb to the normalcy of gun violence.
And Emily, the youngest in the group, is a ninth grader. She lived through Sandy Hook.
“I was in the library between book cases and there were carts of books on either side of the bookcases,” Emily shared. “My teacher – there was something off because she couldn’t get a door locked. We had to crawl on our hands and knees to a closest where we were given journals and crayons. My friend, Tess, started writing a letter to God and I’m like ‘Oh my God, are we ever going to get out of here?'”
The five have all changed. So have their families and their entire community.
“It affected the relationships I had with my family,” Rory shared. “I didn’t talk to them as much. I didn’t talk to my brothers as much. I don’t really know what they went though and I’ve never really reconnected with them since that day.”
“My family has not shared our stories which each other, but we’re sharing them with the world,” Jenny continued.
That includes an audience of millions at March for Our Lives rallies in our nation’s capital.
“I should have been able to lead a young life where I don’t have to be worried about getting killed in my school,” Rory said.
“It wasn’t sad you were from Newtown, it was more like, ‘thank you for being here and thank you for supporting this issue with us,'” Jenny added.
Those marches came just days after the five students walked out of Newtown High School for the 17 lives lost in another school shooting – this time in Parkland, Florida.
“I am just getting angry now, like burning passion angry,” Maya said.
“Why wasn’t the murder of 26 people enough to change the world?” Jenny asked.
They’re still just kids, but they’ve spoken in front of the NRA, rallied outside of gun lobby organizations and mourned with students from Parkland.
“Since Parkland happened, between then and now, this is the first time I’ve accepted what has happened,” Mary said. “I have never gotten over what happened.”
“There is such a long and proud history of gun ownership in this country,” Rory said. “The reality is, we can’t take away all guns. We need to find that middle ground.”
“Like background checks,” Jenny added. “Do you want a criminal having a gun? I don’t
think anyone in America does.”
They want bump stocks banned. That’s the device one shooter used to kill 58 people and wound 851 others in Las Vegas.
“No one needs a weapon that can shoot 800 rounds in one minute to hunt,” Jenny continued.
They’re among the young voices challenging politicians and major corporations and some are already headed to the polls.
“You know who’s taking money from the NRA and you know who people want to vote out,” Jenny said. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”
“It’s important for the politicians to one by one finally say, ‘I’m not taking money,'” Mary added.
They didn’t ask for the directions of all of their lives to be changed and they’re angry their childhood was ripped from them, forcing them to grow up before they were ready.
“Christmas has never been the same since,” Emily said.
“There are so many injustices in the world. This is the one I’m passionate about,” Jenny added. “It just seems petty to be thinking about prom.”
In their darkest moments they feel guilty they lived and after every mass shooting that they didn’t do enough.
“That night, my brothers came home and her brother didn’t,” Mary said, talking about one of her close friends. “And that bothers me. Why did my brothers make it home but her’s did not? Why do
I have a whole family and she does not?”
“Why does this need to keep on happening?” Jenny asked. “20 first graders died. 6-year-olds. 6 and 7-year-olds who had the entire lives to live. I just think it’s insane how much my life has changed from a gun that never touched my body. I am nowhere near the same person I was before.”
“I want people to never forget us,” Maya said with tears in her eyes. “Don’t forget my face, don’t forget
the faces of the 26 people that died.”