When the detective arrived at my home, he had a folder in his hand. "We just have some paperwork to take care of first," he said. After I signed his forms, he gave me a box with the clothes my mother was wearing when she was murdered. It had been almost a year, but I needed to touch them, to know how many times she was shot, to see where she had been hurt.
My mom, Dawn Hochsprung, was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Recently, I told a woman that my mother had passed away just over a year ago. I was trying to be polite, but I instantly felt disgusted with myself for using the term "passed away." My mother was shot to death through no fault of her own. That is not "passing away." She was killed, gunned down in what I would normally have called her haven — her school.
There have been at least 39 school shootings since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. Already this year there have been 10 school shootings, including one Thursday at Eastern Florida State College. Sadly, Americans seem to be getting used to seeing our nation's youth, parents and educators gather outside schools, waiting to hear if their loved ones are safe.
This past December, the holiday season felt wrong. There was an empty place at our table, and traditions didn't seem to matter anymore. My daughter was not yet 6 months old when my mother was killed. I tuck her into bed each night with a stuffed doll that was the first and only Christmas gift she'll ever get from her grandmother. The doll is a nightly reminder that my daughter will never know my mother.
During my mother's wake, my 10-year-old son burst into tears and asked me why, of all the schools in America, this had to happen at Grandma's school. I didn't know how to tell him the truth: that this could happen anywhere, that such shootings might continue to happen.
Immediately after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, discussion of safer gun laws consumed the nation. At the time, I thought it was too soon — 26 innocent people had just been slaughtered at the school, and we were mourning.
I realize now that I was wrong: It wasn't too soon — it was already too late.
It was too late for my family and for all the families of Sandy Hook. It was too late for the families of the victims of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Tucson, Aurora and Oak Creek.
Early last year it felt like the tragedy in Newtown was an eye-opener to the problem of gun violence in our country. But since Newtown, more than 12,000 Americans have been killed by gun violence. Last April, a majority of senators voted for a bipartisan bill to expand background checks and keep guns out of the wrong hands — but a minority caved to the gun lobby and was able to block passage.
I thought Congress' failure to pass gun-safety legislation would shatter my hopes. But it did the opposite: I and others who make up the 90 percent of Americans who support comprehensive background checks aren't going away. We're here to share our stories and fight for our future.
As the daughter of a shooting victim, I hope no one else ever has to suffer through my experience. As a mother, I am horrified by the thought that this senseless violence could happen again anywhere, at any moment. There have been too many shootings and too many moments of silence. There is a national movement of Americans, from mayors to moms, raising our voices. We demand action — closing the private-sale loophole — from our leaders, and we will win the fight against gun violence.
Cristina Lafferty Hassinger lives in Connecticut.
© 2014 Washington Post