“Of the 26 dead, most are children,” reported NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt to a nation stunned by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Six educators and 20 six- and seven-year-old students were murdered that day in their classrooms by an emotionally disturbed young man armed with sophisticated handguns and a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle snatched from his mother’s exotic gun collection. His mother was also a casualty of her son’s rampage.
The aftermath of this horrific crime and its continuing legacy are the engines that drive producer/director Kim A. Snyder and producer Maria Cuomo Cole’s feature-length documentary, Newtown, premiering on the PBS series Independent Lens tonight, Monday, April 3, 2017, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT; 8:00-10:00 p.m.CT/MT. (Check local listings to confirm air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and see below for additional screening ops.)
Newtown joins the small and growing list of recent outstanding films, Tower and Marathon (see my reviews on February 14, 2017 and November 21, 2016, respectively), that focus on mass murders perpetrated on American soil by disenfranchised young men. Unlike the former two films, however, Newtown features no interviews with physically wounded survivors because once shot, the shooter’s tiny victims had no chance of survival.
The film replays the traumatic timeline of that chilling day, from the frantic 911 calls and EMT and police reports to the gathering at the local firehouse, where anxious parents awaited news of their children’s well-being.
This is not an easy film to watch. Your tears will fall as parents; adolescent siblings; neighbors; a teacher and a local priest; and medical and law enforcement professionals recall their own and their community’s losses in deeply personal terms. You might even suffer a sudden wave of nausea, as I did, during a medical director’s painful recount of the number of bullets that shattered each child’s body.
Three parents–Mark Barden, David Wheeler and Nicole Hockley–are especially articulate witnesses to the many stages of grief that they and their families have endured. They openly acknowledge their inability to forgive and forget. They cherish baby teeth and locks of hair, and are incapable of disposing of boxes of toys and clothing. They have become vocal social activists in the fight for stricter gun control laws and background checks.
Nicole Hockley remembers the grief that she and her husband overcame when their son, Dylan, was diagnosed with autism only to face his incomprehensible death in what was supposed to be a safe and nurturing environment. Her only measure of comfort: Dylan died with his teacher’s arm around him, so he wasn’t alone. She is determined that his memory not be forgotten: “He has a legacy that I will fulfill for him,” she says.
Grieving dad David Wheeler explains the difficult decision to have another child, for the sake of his surviving son. Musician dad Mark Barden, who continues to compensate for the storms of grief that envelop him, was compelled to revisit the school one last time before it was razed, so he could experience the site where his son, Daniel, lived his last moments.
The senselessness of this crime, in a picture perfect community where schools were thought to be safe havens, is a timely reminder that guns in the hands of unstable individuals remain the major killer of Americans on U.S. soil. According to statistics compiled by Sandy Hook Promise, the national non-profit founded and led by several family members who lost loved ones on December 14, 2012, “Most criminal gun violence is committed by individuals who lack mental wellness (coping skills, anger management and other social-emotional skills).”
Despite the fact that the toll of gun violence in urban and suburban communities across the country continues to rise, the debate surrounding gun control legislation remains more divisive than ever. Hopefully, this film will encourage viewers to press their state Senators and Congressmen and women to do what they were elected to do…pass legislation that will keep their constituents safe.
I urge you not to miss the PBS premiere of Newtown on Independent Lens tonight, Monday, April 3, 2017, 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT; 8:00-10:00 p.m.CT/MT. (Check local listings to confirm air times and repeat broadcasts in your region.) The film would best be watched in the company of family or friends, followed by hugs and quiet discussion. It might be one of the most important documentaries you’ll share this year.
Newtown is also currently available on DVD at shopPBS.org and, as of April 4, 2017, via online streaming at http://www.pbs.org/independentlens Join the conversation at http://www.facebook.com/independentlens and on Twitter @IndependentLens. For more information on how you can show your support to the Sandy Hook community and join them to lobby for stricter gun control laws and background checks, visit the Sandy Hook Promise website at http://www.sandyhookpromise.org –Judith Trojan