Before that morning was half over Ashley’s world of “sunshine and rainbows” had been transformed into one where “everything was just sad and scary.”
“The thing about this trauma specifically is because we were so young, you don’t really grow away from it, you grow around it,” said Ashley, now 15, speaking publicly for the first time about surviving the Sandy Hook massacre in a video released by a gun violence prevention group. “As you grow up, it…moves with you.”
As such, she says in the video, “I can’t even express how, how angry, how emotional it makes me” when extremists deny the deaths of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook School. At the same time, she speaks with hope in the video that “If … we continue to fight long enough and hard enough things will change.”
Ashley, who was given partial anonymity to use only her first name in an agreement between her family and the nonprofit Guns Down America, can be seen in the seven-minute video speaking candidly and collectedly about what happened when a 20-year-old gunman shot his way into her locked school and committed the worst crime in Connecticut history.
‘I can’t give you proof except for my trauma’ — Ashley survived the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 people dead, 20 of whom were children. Listen as she speaks out for the first time via @GunsDownAmerica (warning: distressing) pic.twitter.com/qg7OjwOaV7
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) February 7, 2021
“It was so loud, but we were trying so hard to be quiet … it freaked us out so badly,” she said. “Mrs. Clements dragged over a desk, and she was trying to read a book to us but her hands were shaking a lot, so it was really hard to stay calm.”
Abbey Clements, the teacher Ashley speaks of, was instrumental in encouraging the teenager to share her story and “experience the power in telling your truth.”
“At a time where we still have Sandy Hook deniers and conspiracy theorists and school shootings, there is such power in her truth,” Clements told Hearst Connecticut Media on Monday. “I think she felt good about that fact that (Guns Down America) gave her time and space to tell her story.”
Igor Volsky, the co-founder and executive director of Guns Down America agreed. Volsky interviewed Ashley, wrote the narrative text for the video, and released it to the progressive news outlet, NowThis, which posted the video on Friday.
“It’s easy to forget she is 15 given how incredibly mature and eloquent she is,” Volsky said on Monday. “I was happy to hear her urge President Biden to really prioritize gun violence prevention and live up to the promises he made when he visited Newtown.”
Ashley’s video was released at the end of a week dominated by headlines about a freshman GOP congresswoman whose support of conspiracy extremism and Sandy Hook denial led the Democrat-controlled House of Representative to remove her from the Education and Labor Committee.
Although Ashley’s video was taped before the Feb. 4 House vote to strip U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, the purpose of asking Ashley to respond to conspiracy extremists was not to single out the embattled congresswoman, but to shine a light on how conspiratorial lies traumatize victims, Volsky said.
“It’s so invalidating,” Ashley says on the video. “It’s incredibly invalidating to everything our community has gone through, to everything other communities have gone through.”
Sandy Hook students have not been as outspoken as certain parents and adults in Newtown because the students were so young when the tragedy struck. Select students have been more vocal publicly about their experience – particularly after they were inspired by the example of the Parkland students’ March for Our Lives movement.
Clements, who teaches fourth grade in Newtown, says she is proud of all her students, but particularly impressed with Ashley.
“It was really incredible to see the sensitivity and the perspective she had as a person so young going through that,” Clements said. “Her voice is so important right now when we have members of congress who are denying her truth.”
One of the worst parts of that morning eight years ago was after the shooting stopped, Ashley said.
“The police came and got us, and they told us to line up and put our hands on the person in front of us…and close our eyes, and they led us out of the building,” she says on the video. “And I know a few of my friends didn’t close their eyes and they are still so scarred because they saw their classmates.”