11 YEARS LATER: First graders who survived Sandy Hook shooting are high school seniors

On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing six educators and 20 first graders. Ehrens was in one of those classrooms.

Marissa Alter

Dec 14, 2023, 10:38 PM

Updated 220 days ago


The children killed at Sandy Hook would be 17 or 18 today—high school seniors, a year that's often anticipated and filled with excitement. 
"I definitely think of prom," said current Newtown High School senior Grace Fisher. 
"And applications for college," added her classmate, Emma Ehrens.
The two will mark a milestone this spring when they graduate, but a major piece of their class will be missing—kids who were robbed of the chance 11 years ago.
"It would've been nice to see the kind of people that they would've become and how we could've been shaped by them as well," Fisher told News 12
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing six educators and 20 first graders. Ehrens was in one of those classrooms.
"When you're 6 years old and something traumatic happens, your brain kind of blocks it out for you," she stated.
Ehrens said things have come back in the past year.
"He was standing right next to me—the shooter, so I didn't know whether to move or what to do," Ehrens recalled.
Then she heard someone cry out. It was a close friend who ended up not making it himself.
"Jesse Lewis—he yelled at us to run when he noticed that the shooter's gun had jammed. He actually saved my life. When he said run, I ran," Ehrens told News 12.
Fisher was in a first grade classroom around the corner that day. She said she heard the shooting and thought it was construction work on the school.
"How was I supposed to know what a gunshot sounded like? I was 6 years old," she said incredulously.
Fisher explained her teacher read them Christmas stories until the shooting stopped and police evacuated the room.
"Everyone was supposed to close their eyes, put their arms on the person in front of them, and I think most of us opened our eyes, as curious kids would," Fisher told News 12. "That was very traumatizing for me, and the rest of it is like a total blur."
Fisher said her memories have gotten clearer as she's gotten older, sometimes brought on by the nonstop cycle of gun violence.
"Seeing school shooting after school shooting, I get like some really bad memories of what happened, and sometimes I'll recall things that I hadn't recalled in the past," Fisher stated.
With that clarity has also come survivor's guilt.
"Sometimes I know I feel guilty trying to move forward because I don't want to leave them in the past or anything," Fisher explained.
"If I think about it, like too much, I'll be like, 'Why am I here?'" Ehrens added. "But since I am, I'm trying to make it worth it and trying to make all the people who didn't make it proud."
Both girls have taken leadership roles with the Junior Newtown Action Alliance, a high school club that advocates for gun violence prevention. They said they were initially hesitant to join, concerned about reliving their pain daily. Instead, it's given them strength.
"We definitely share the same love and passion of trying to fight for change," Fisher said.
"I feel like it's been like an honor to work beside these people who want to fight for change," Ehrens said.
The club recently went to Washington D.C., lobbying legislators for stricter gun laws. Perhaps the most powerful part has been sharing what they've been through as they continue to work on healing.
"I do find the importance of telling my story," Fisher explained.
"It's part of who I am. There's never going to be a part of me that just forgets that," Ehrens said.
She and Fisher met up with News 12 at the Sandy Hook Memorial, which opened last year near the new elementary school built to replace the one torn down after the tragedy. It's become a sanctuary for Ehrens, who said she stops by often.
"Whenever I'm feeling down or I'm missing my friends, I come over here, pop a squat by one of the stones, and I either just listen to music or I just talk to them if there's no one here. I just like coming to visit, makes me feel like they're still here I guess," Ehrens shared.

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