Emboldened by Parkland, Newtown students find their voice

More than five years after the Sandy Hook massacre, the first-grade students who survived are 11- and 12-year-olds.

A man displays an anti gun violence sign during a March for our Lives Rally at Fairfield Hills Campus, in Newtown earlier this month.
A man displays an anti gun violence sign during a March for our Lives Rally at Fairfield Hills Campus in Newtown earlier this month. –Kena Betancur / Getty Images

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Last year, Natalie Barden heard an announcement about a meeting of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, a club for high school students working to reduce gun violence.

Natalie, 16, who will start her junior year Monday, knew of the club but didn’t know much about it. The announcement caught her attention. “I was like, ‘Well, why am I not in that club?’” she said last week.

Natalie’s parents, Mark and Jackie Barden, have been active in gun violence prevention since their 7-year-old son, Daniel, was killed. Daniel was one of 20 first-graders and six educators shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

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More than five years after the Sandy Hook massacre, the first-grade students who survived are 11- and 12-year-olds entering seventh grade in middle school.

But there were 400 other students in the school the day of the shootings. The oldest — fourth-graders at the time — are now in high school, and have gradually begun to realize the power they wield by speaking out. And in increasing numbers, Newtown’s teenagers are joining a network of young activists around the country who say they have had enough.

Last fall, Natalie joined a handful of students at the first meeting of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance club, run by two seniors, Jackson Mittleman and Tommy Murray.

The club had struggled to attract members; at times just a few students showed up to meetings, Jackson and Tommy said.

In February, when 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Natalie said she knew she needed to take decisive steps. “I decided that I just needed to do more,” she said.

Natalie was not alone. About 100 students attended the Newtown High School club’s next meeting.

This month, students from Parkland and teenagers who had joined the Road to Change bus tour as it crossed the country arrived in Newtown, their final stop. Ending their tour in Newtown felt important, said Jaclyn Corin, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “Unfortunately, Newtown and Parkland are forever connected,” Jaclyn said.

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