Five years ago on Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history. Scarlett Lewis’ six-year-old son, Jesse, was among the children who lost their lives that day.
Although she finds it hard to believe herself, Lewis has found forgiveness in her heart for Adam Lanza, her son’s murderer.
As she told Today.com, when Lewis returned to her home for the first time since Jesse’s death to pick out clothes for him to wear at his funeral, she saw something that stunned her. Jesse had written the following words on a chalkboard in the kitchen: “Nurturing Healing Love.”
A college professor helped an intrigued Lewis research the meaning of those words. They discovered that “nurturing healing love” are a common definition of compassion in many cultures, meant to be a formula for choosing love over hate.
“I knew immediately, if Adam Lanza had felt nurturing, healing love, this would not have happened,” Lewis told Today.com.
After consulting with a therapist, Scarlett Lewis learned about the concept of social and emotional learning, also known as SEL. She became determined to incorporate SEL in schools to prevent further tragedies like Sandy Hook and founded the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement, a free pre-K through 12th grade SEL program that teaches educators and their students how to choose love in any circumstance.
Watch Lewis talk about her experience in the emotional clip below:
“The reason that I say Adam Lanza’s name is because I think that it’s vitally important we remember that he was a human being, too,” she said of her son’s killer. “And he was in a tremendous amount of pain. He experienced bullying, and he wasn’t born a mass murderer. He was cultivated into what he became by his environment.”
Lewis’ older son, J.T. Lewis, now 17, also found forgiveness through an encounter with orphaned Rwandan genocide survivors, who shared how they forgave their family’s killers. The experience inspired J.T. to found Newton Helps Rwanda, which raises money to send orphaned Rwandan genocide survivors.
You can learn more about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement and social and emotional learning on the organization’s website.