Nicole Hockley, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise. Submitted photo

LEWISTON — Nicole Hockley knows what it’s like to be a survivor of a mass shooting. Her 6-year-old son Dylan was shot multiple times and killed in his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012.

“My heart, it’s still very much with the impacted families and the injured,” she said Thursday referring to the Lewiston mass shootings last week. “Because this is, you know, I still remember what it was like one week after.”

Hockley co-founded and is CEO of the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise, which formed after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Its purpose is to educate, unite, advocate and “make the country a safer, better place.”

“I don’t think people understand just how long the shock lasts, so I’m thinking about them,” she said. “From a wider standpoint, I’m very much seeing the exact same cycle repeat that does after every mass shooting.”

She likened the cycle of mass shootings in this country to a broken record and said the Lewiston shootings appear to be another example of a completely preventable act of violence.

“It’s even more frustrating that this record, this record keeps skipping and repeating although we know that there are solutions that would help this … I continue to be heartbroken for the families, thinking about them in their journey ahead and just increasingly angry that we still haven’t learned our lesson as a country to make things better.”


Those watching television may have seen one of two public service announcements from Sandy Hook Promise in the past few days. They are focused on ways to prevent gun violence, particularly on schools and the younger generation. At least one aired in the Portland market Wednesday during prime time, paid for by the station.

Asked about Maine’s yellow flag law, Hockley said she applauds family members and others who came forward with concerns about the shooter’s mental health, but she feels the law is flawed and not effective.

“The idea of requiring law enforcement to bring a person in for a medical evaluation before weapons can be seized, this is very dissimilar to other states or best practices on red flag laws or extreme risk protection orders,” Hockley said. “It allows for the opportunity to evade evaluation and having guns taken away or restricted access; it allows time for escalation.”

Drawing on her experience as a survivor, Hockley talked about what survivors and families of victims can expect in the coming days, weeks and beyond. “There’s likely to be a ton of support available that an impacted family will not know how to navigate.”

Hockley said most of the impacted families won’t know what they need or want.

“I remember being, you know, bombarded with very well-meaning people, saying, tell us what you need, tell us what you need … You need your loved one back, and that’s the one thing that someone can never do for you,” she said.


For survivors, families of victims and the wider community, Hockley said it’s going to be a long process, especially in the first year. “Because every day is another milestone. It’s the first birthday, it’s the first Thanksgiving, or Hanukkah, or Christmas. It’s the first you know, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. The anxiety that can build up before them is unfathomable,” she said.

For her and other survivors, it never goes away, she said. “And for me … the five-year, the 10 years, these milestone markers impact your brain and your heart in ways that you just don’t realize that they’re going to do so.”

Hockley offered another piece of advice to the community that she feels is important.

“Just giving those families the space, not crowding them and allowing them to use their voices in whatever ways they want and for whatever way they want to honor their loved one,” she said. “But also, you know, to try to, I don’t know, just help them.”

Sandy Hook Promise has worked with over 23,000 schools and organizations through its Know the Signs program, which teaches students and adults how to prevent school violence, shootings and other harmful acts. Students and educators learn how to identify at-risk behaviors and intervene to get help.

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