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Ten years after Sandy Hook, a mother’s grief and healing

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Jenny Hubbard's daughter Catherine Violet Hubbard died in the Sandy Hook massacre./AFP
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Dec 14, 2022 - 12:37 PM

NEWTOWN, UNITED STATES — Jenny Hubbard struggles to believe that 10 years have passed since her six-year-old daughter’s murder at Sandy Hook Elementary during the deadliest school shooting in US history.

Catherine Violet Hubbard was among 20 children and six adults gunned down by Adam Lanza in the five-minute killing spree in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.

The massacre shocked America and the world, sparked heightened security measures at schools, and renewed a contentious fight for gun control laws that continues a decade later.

“It’s a reminder that time is so fleeting,” Hubbard, 50, says of Wednesday’s anniversary, which, like every year, will be marked with quiet reflection in the town of just 27,000 people.

“It’s been a lifetime because from that day to now, my life is totally different, and yet at the same time it was like it was yesterday,” she tells AFP.

Hubbard remembers Catherine and her eight-year-old son’s excitement as she put them on the school bus that morning, with Christmas just around the corner.

“They were over the moon for the holidays. It was one of those mornings where I look back on, and I think it was rushed and chaotic, but it was also one of the best mornings that we had,” she recalls.

At 9:30 am (1430 GMT), 20-year-old Lanza entered the school armed with a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle and two pistols after shooting dead his mother at home.

“The phone call came in that something had happened, and the rest of the day was just a long fog of knowing that something terrible had happened but not understanding the magnitude of what that was,” says Hubbard.

‘The unthinkable loss’

Lanza fired more than 150 times in the corridors and classrooms, killing 20 six-and-seven-year-olds, and six women who worked at the school, before committing suicide.

At a nearby firehouse, where authorities had taken children to be picked up by their parents, Hubbard learned that Catherine had died.

“Most people were just frozen. (It was) the unthinkable loss,” she says.

Slowly, over time, Hubbard says she has been able to heal, thanks to accepting the kindness of others and religious faith.

“The first step was just getting out of bed, and that was because of my son. I had to get up because he had a right to live his life. Then every single day, there was just one more step that I would take,” she says.

Difficult days include the first school day of every year and when other mass shootings occur, like at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May when 19 children and two teachers were killed.

“I know that the journey that the families are about to take is not easy, and it’s lonely, and it’s dark at times,” says Hubbard.

Following Sandy Hook, described by Barack Obama as the worst day of his presidency, schools reinforced doors and windows, upped teaching children how to respond to an “active shooter,” and boosted staff training on how to barricade classrooms.

But tougher national restrictions on guns did not follow until after Uvalde, when Congress passed legislation that expanded background checks and reinforced measures to get firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

A stricter law that expired in 2004, banning military-style rifles with large capacity magazines, remains elusive amid opposition from Republicans who cite the constitutional right to gun ownership.

“Civilians should not have access to weapons that we give to armed soldiers to fight foreign enemies,” Connecticut Against Gun Violence executive director Jeremy Stein, told AFP.

A gentle animal lover 

A circular memorial pool honoring the Sandy Hook victims opened near the school last month. Single white roses rested on each name this week.

Nearby, sits the 34-acre Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary that Hubbard founded in honor of her daughter, who loved animals.

Hubbard remembers Catherine as “fiercely determined,” “gentle” and “compassionate.”

Sometimes, she finds herself wanting to know what 16-year-old Catherine would be like, but tries to stop herself.

“I will never understand why that’s not possible in my life, but I carry with me the six years that she shared with me and the memories,” Hubbard says.

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