Reflections on the Anniversary of Sandy Hook Shootings

Published by Daleen Berry on

December 14 has held personal significance for several years, but last year that date became connected with a horrific crime none of us can understand. Even if you’ve fought and won the battle of mental illness, as I did after being hospitalized for depression in 1991, last year’s Sandy Hook shooting defies understanding. Severe mental illness is difficult to comprehend on the best days. But Dec. 14, 2012, wasn’t one of those days. Quite the opposite.

Today, as a tiny Connecticut town rings bells and burns candles to remember its 26 school-age victims, we shouldn’t forget that they weren’t the only victims. After he took his life and that of his mother, the shooter left behind a father and a brother. It’s the ones left behind who are tasked with the larger job of living life, of going forward.

Just like Shannon Stafford’s family is. She has loved ones who daily mourn her loss. Shannon died at the hands of a man with a gun, too. Unlike the Sandy Hook children, though, few people know her story. That’s going to change soon.

On a sunny Sunday last June, a TV producer and her cameraman completely transformed my living room. They had flown in from Seattle, Wash., to interview several people about Shannon’s story. I was one of them. Fortunately for Shannon’s baby girl, Faith (Stafford) Mitchell, her mother’s memory will be forever memorialized, in the form of the Discovery ID episode that will air December 22.

Unfortunately for Faith, who now resides with them, that memorial will focus on the rest of the family. You see, Faith’s grandfather killed Shannon. Yes, the Discovery ID show that’s taken up Shannon’s story is called “Evil In-Laws.” Because that’s how television covers such events. This segment will look at the man who pulled the trigger, as well as the other family members who appear to have convinced him to do so. I hope you’ll watch it with me when it airs: for Shannon, for her family, and for Faith.

No sane person can imagine why one lone gunman would open fire on a peaceful school filled with happy, laughing children. Nor why another lone gunman would open fire on Shannon Stafford, a young mother who, by all accounts, truly didn’t have a bad bone in her body. Who was cut down in her late 20s, while she sat waiting to see the daughter she so adored, and took such good care of. Who was executed by her father-in-law, who didn’t stop shooting even after Shannon was dead.

Anymore, I think about death all the time. Which isn’t that odd, when you realize I’ve been working on a book about the savage murder of Skylar Neese for the last several months. Or that the associated trial, if there is one, will take place in late January, where I’ll have a front-row seat, figuratively speaking.

I believe the best way to get through today, through this tragic anniversary is to do what one Connecticut family tries to do every day. Their motto, according to Nelba Márquez-Greene, is “love wins.”

Márquez-Greene is married to jazz singer Jimmy Greene. The lost their daughter Ana in last year’s Sandy Hook shooting.

I cried while listening to her words with NPR’s Tovia Smith today. That’s because the mother who has lost a daughter also spends her days counseling the mentally ill—and even she doesn’t understand such senseless acts of violence.

But something else brought tears to my eyes, too. “We want to remember (Ana’s) life twice as much as her death,” Márquez-Greene said.

We can all learn from that. We can honor the Sandy Hook victims, whether we’re family or not. We can also honor Shannon Stafford, Skylar Neese, and anyone else whose death has been equally senseless.

That’s how we can guarantee Márquez-Greene is right, and love will win.

Editor’s note: Award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of Full Bone Moon) and I are writing the book about Skylar Neese’s murder, which will be published by BenBella Books in Fall 2014.

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Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.


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