As the small New England community of Newtown, Connecticut approaches the two-year mark on Sunday of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, some of the families of the 20 children killed in the tragedy are taking action. The parents of nearly half of the first-graders who died on Dec. 14, 2012 have filed, or are expected to put into place, notices of wrongful death claims on behalf of their children.
As of Monday, at least eight families took the first step in pursuing possible legal action for the deaths of their children, including Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Dylan Hockley, Ana Marquez-Greene, Grace McDonnell, Jack Pinto, Jessica Rekos and Benjamin Wheeler, according to Connecticut probate court records. Their action – opening an “estate” in the child’s name – allows family members to become representatives on behalf of the individuals who died. The move, however, doesn’t indicate the relatives ultimately will file a lawsuit in superior court.
The Hartford Courant reported the news on Monday night. The newspaper also reported that two other families were considering filing wrongful death claims on behalf of their kids.
Paul Knierim, probate court administrator in Connecticut, told msnbc that employees cannot discuss specific cases.
Once family members are designated as “administrators” in probate court, actual legal action then occurs in superior court, Knierim said. Individuals, companies and governmental agencies legally can be at fault in a wrongful death claim if they were found to have acted negligently and intentionally.
The 2012 shooting took the lives of 26 people — 20 first-graders and six educators — as well as the gunman and his mother. The tragedy was the second-deadliest school shooting in American history, after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that killed 32 people. Officials who investigated the Sandy Hook shooting found “no conclusive motive” nor indication of why the gunman chose the nearly 400-student school as his target.
The Courant also reported that some of the families have considered broader legal action in response to the shooting, including a suit against a gun manufacturer, the insurance company that holds the policy for the Newtown home where the gunman, Adam Lanza, lived and the town itself.
Earlier this year, two Newtown parents expressed to the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission how the local town agencies failed their families when it provided initial assistance after the shooting. The parents cited delays in the notification of direct contact to the superintendent’s office and information about a trauma team that had been established to assist surviving relatives during the recovery process. The local town government didn’t excel at the same level as the state agencies during its initial and long-term assistance for Newtown residents, David Wheeler, whose son Benjamin died in the tragedy, told the state commission in June. Recently re-elected Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy created the 16-member panel to review policies on school safety, mental health and gun-violence prevention after the shooting.
The 2012 tragedy renewed a nationwide debate about gun control. Many of the victims’ family members have become gun-control advocates, and have visited Capitol Hill to push lawmakers to strengthen gun laws.
Ahead of the two-year mark of the Sandy Hook shooting, the groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released a report Tuesday on the nearly 100 U.S. school shootings that have occurred since Newtown. The list now includes 95 separate incidents at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as on college campuses. Seventy percent of the kindergarten-through-12th grade incidents in which the shooter’s age was known were perpetrated by minors, according to the report. In more than a third of all the incidents, at least one person was shot following an argument that escalated and a firearm was present.
“Here’s the reality: this country has experienced 95 school shootings since the tragedy at Sandy Hook. The other reality is that Congress is complicit in these murders if we continue to sit back and do nothing to reverse this trend,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Tuesday during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
“Students and teachers shouldn’t have to fear entering their classrooms each morning,” added Rep. Elizabeth Esty, Democrat of Connecticut.
Everytown and Moms Demand Action also published a new ad Tuesday that shows American students preparing for lockdown. In the 60-second spot, titled, “We can’t hide from gun violence,” a teacher and her classroom full of students prepare for a lockdown after a voice on the intercom relays the situation. The video ends with a voice on the intercom signaling that the lockdown has ended, and a narrator asking when adults will take action to reduce gun violence in the country.