On December 14, 2012, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary and turned left, toward the main office and first-grade classrooms; had he turned right, he almost immediately would have encountered Sarah Clements’s mother teaching in her second-grade classroom. This saved her mother’s life, and the lives of her students, and the close call turned both mother and daughter into gun-violence-prevention activists.
That day, 20 children and eight adults, including the shooter and his mother, were killed. I spoke with Sarah, now a senior at Georgetown University, to learn about how she processed the shooting, and how she has been reacting to the national conversation around youth activism and gun violence after Parkland. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Steven Johnson: Can you walk me through the day of the shooting?
Sarah Clements: I was a junior in high school, in my first-period class, physics. Our principal came on the loudspeaker and said that we were going into lockdown, and it wasn’t a drill. We realized that 30 minutes had passed, and maybe this wasn’t actually a drill. I saw that I had a text from my dad that said there was a shooting at Sandy Hook.
The town was just an absolute mess. People were trying to figure out if their kids were alive, so there were mobs of parents at every school. We went home, and for the rest of that night, I think we all just sat in my parents’ room and watched CNN to figure out who had been killed and who had lived. My mom was recounting what she went through, so that we knew. She always, even from that first day, wanted us to know what happened to her. I think her sharing her story immediately with us is something that affected me, and I got into activism. Of course we need to share our stories. Of course people need to know what that was like.