INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Daniel Barden was seven years old. He loved drawing and nature, dancing and music. He also had an extraordinary sense of compassion for a boy his age.
“His teachers would tell us from pre-k through first grade that he would always be the first to help out. The first to notice somebody sitting alone wanting to connect with them,” Mark Barden, Daniel’s father told News 8. ”As a parent, you love to hear your child is doing that outside of the home. It’s more important than grades, I believe.”
One cold winter morning, Mark and Daniel walked to the school bus stop. They laughed, held hands and talked about how excited they were to have pizza that night. As the bus pulled up, Mark gave Daniel a kiss on the forehead, told him he loved him and waved goodbye.
It was the last time he would ever see his son alive.
The date was Dec.14, 2012–the day a gunman would open fire inside Daniel’s school, Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I started getting texts and phone calls that there was a lockdown in the district,” said Mark. “It happened before so I didn’t think a whole lot about it. Then we started getting more specifics about it. There had been a shooting at the elementary school.”
Once he heard the news, Mark describes himself as going into auto-pilot while driving to the school. Upon arriving at the scene, he remembers seeing more emergency vehicles in one place than he’d ever seen before. Teachers and volunteers were ushering students outside to a nearby firehouse all while holding signs showing the grade number so parents could reunite with their children. But he couldn’t find Daniel.
Then there was a report the principal may have been shot.
“I thought to myself: ‘Oh my God. How am I going to explain this to this very nurturing little soul? This compassionate little boy who takes care of the ants and the worms and all of his little friends. How am I going to have that conversation with him?”’
It wasn’t long after Mark learned six educators and 20 first graders had been shot to death. Daniel was one of them.
Mark described what the days and weeks following were like. He says his head was in a fog “induced by shock and trauma.” But when those feelings began to fade, he decided he wanted to use the experience to help others. In January of 2013, he started the nonprofit, gun violence prevention program, Sandy Hook Promise.
“If I could use this platform, that I didn’t ask for, then I wanted to do some good with it and honor Daniel,” he said. “I was ready to dive into what I could do and add my voice to this conversation…to see if I could help and genuinely prevent this pain from visiting other families.”
And that’s exactly what he wants to do for those mourning after the mass shooting at FedEx in Indianapolis last week.
“I think about the folks in Indianapolis who are navigating these early, horrible, shock and trauma-filled days and I extend my thoughts. And if they feel they would have any value in talking with me, I will be here for them.”