Scarlett Lewis’s son Jesse Lewis died while encouraging his Sandy Hook classmates to run from the gunman. Over dinner at the Red Rooster Pub in Newtown after voting yes on the memorial Tuesday, she recalled an early public forum about the project.
Ms. Lewis sat on the memorial commission at the time, and attended the forum with two other victims’ mothers. “We had a lot of people there, and they were giving their opinions, and there were some women sitting in front of me and they said, literally, quote, ‘They have a memorial, and it’s called a tombstone. They can go visit the tombstone anytime they want. I don’t know why I have to drive by something every day, and explain to my child, and feel sad.’”
Ms. Lewis quit the commission the next day. “I went home and I got my art group together and painted our own memorial that’s hanging on my barn.”
The mural faces the road and honors all the children and educators killed: It depicts a pond flanked by exuberant flowers, populated by Jesse’s beloved ducks. A small sign on its bank bears the message “Have a lot of fun,” a quotation from a note Jesse had written to his older brother, J.T. Lewis, who found it after Jesse’s death.
Jesse’s father, Neil Heslin, does not live in Newtown, but if he did, he said, he would not have voted for the project. “There’s no reason that the town taxpayers should be footing the bill for that,” he said in a separate interview. “I support the idea of a memorial. But we talk about the tragedy so often that it can be hard to move on with our lives.”
Ms. Lewis founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation after the shooting, developing a social and emotional learning curriculum now offered in 10,000 schools in 112 countries.
“It’s important to honor what happened. It’s a part of our history, it’s a part of our town’s history,” she said. “Teaching your kids about it might be painful, but it’s also necessary, because with learning, we can teach them why that happened, how that happened and what they can do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
(With inputs from NYTimes)
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