When Mark Barden received the first “Thinking of You” text on Tuesday afternoon, he assumed the well-wisher had the anniversary of another horrific school shooting on his mind. Late May is ripe for them: This week marks the fourth anniversary of a high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas that left 10 dead, and eight years since a student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, killed two fellow students outside murdered a sorority home in Isla Vista, California. “They just seem to stack up,” Barden sighed.
Barden, of course, would soon learn of a new tragedy unfolding at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The massacre, which left 19 students and two teachers dead, would be immediately described as “another Sandy Hook” — the very one Barden had dedicated his life to preventing since the 2012 shooting, his seven-year-old son Daniel and 19 others first demanded graders. On Tuesday night, Barden and his wife Jackie got in their car and drove around. “We just had to get out,” says Barden, and the two sat in silence for a long time. “Then Jackie turned to me and said, ‘This is her Friday night.’ And I knew exactly what she meant.”
She was referring to Friday, December 14, 2014, the night the Bardens waited anguishedly at the Newtown Fire House until Gov. Dannel Malloy finally said, “No more survivors.” The night they found the impossible words had to tell her two surviving children that her brother had been murdered at the elementary school they all attended. That night, Barden could no longer imagine, as he had in the hours before, that his little boy with the auburn curls had miraculously escaped the horrors of his classroom and fallen safely into the forest.
“We were just totally in shock and just trying to figure out what the heck happened,” Barden told me on Wednesday morning. “And that’s what Jackie meant. That’s where those families are right now.”
Barden has always been willing to share his personal horror at a nation rocked by unthinkable tragedy after unthinkable tragedy – although for Barden, having lived through it for almost a decade, the tragedy is entirely possible. And he feels compelled to do it in the small hope that maybe finally fewer families will have to suffer his torments. “I realized early on that there is an advocacy component, that I can honor my son Daniel by using my voice, by using this platform, which I didn’t want to be on, to prevent other families from doing something like this.” have to go through,” Barden says. “And I felt it was a fitting way to honor my little Daniel, and I still do.”
i was under the journalists who called bards after atrocities. Every time he takes my call and every time he answers my curious questions about what it’s like to live through a cruelty no parent should ever endure. He always greets my requests with a grace, generosity, and honesty that somehow makes his willingness seem more heartbreaking. He doesn’t spare anyone his grief, and neither should he: The week after the 2018 high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Barden had been “horrific” for him, though he still expressed his “absolute sadness, despair, anger, and defeat.” “ to a Hartford Courant reporter who asked.
As I picked up the phone to ask Barden again to comment on yet another unspeakable tragedy, I couldn’t help but ask: Have you ever considered not answering the phone?
Barden paused. “It’s very difficult,” he says. “I feel compelled to speak to you about this because you are the channel to the American public,” Barden says when asked about his determination. “That’s where the activism is. And I’m asking people to take that moment, that outrage and that horror, that sadness that they’re feeling, and not let it go.”
David Hogg believes that “probably thousands, or at least several hundred” people asked him where he was when he heard the news of the Uvalde shooting. “That’s a rough estimate,” says Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 Parkland shooting. “But it certainly feels like it.” Being someone who’s being approached for comment now feels “dystopian,” admits he to. “I have seen many of us survivors collapse in the past few days. It’s traumatizing, it’s exhausting.”
Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland massacre, has been a frequent guest on cable news since becoming a full-time gun control activist after the death of his daughter. Still, at moments like this, it feels “terrible” to make the media inquiries, he says via text message. “I still suffer from the loss of my daughter and the guilt I kept silent before she was. It will always feel like a nightmare.”
Those who survived this nightmare know they have little to offer the newest members of their macabre club. “You can’t say or do anything that would help someone through this process, and it’s just heartbreaking,” says Barden. “The notion that there is any public relations that can mitigate the sense of loss for these parents is kind of ridiculous,” adds Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who is close to the Sandy Hook families as their then-Congressman came.
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Newtown residents begged the swarming press to leave the close-knit hamlet alone, begging journalists to stop calling victims and knocking on neighbors’ doors, cameras already slung over their shoulders. Parkland too became a media sensation after the tragedy, and a sense of doom spread among the survivors as the parallels of this tragedy to Uvalde were revealed. “When I come to school tomorrow and there are news vans outside [Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School] so we can be the backdrop for their liveshot I’ll lose my mind,” a teacher who survived the shooting tweeted Tuesday night.
No one wants to be a prop in a pageant of mourning, especially since the agony spares no one when it spreads across a community. “I know from personal experience that our friends and neighbors, people in our neighborhoods where Daniel was a presence of light and joy and happiness — those people were forever changed by it,” says Barden, and they need support in equal measure. But sharing was a source of strength for bards. “I understood, whether we wanted it or not – well, we didn’t want it – that we now had a voice that people wanted to hear and hopefully learn from our experiences,” says Barden. “And for me personally, I found healing value in that.”
Prior to the Uvalde massacre, Hogg had spent three days in Buffalo, New York, where ten black residents were shot dead at a grocery store last week. Devastation had gripped a horrified nation, only to be overshadowed days later by yet another senseless mass murder. Hogg knows that mass shootings command media attention, brief windows that give him a platform to address the pervasive spread of gun violence.
“I understand that it is a privilege that you speak to me,” he says. “There are millions of people who don’t get these calls.”
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/uvalde-shooting-parkland-newtown-sandy-hook-1359997/ Mark Barden’s Son Died in Sandy Hook. Now He’s Speaking Out on Uvalde