Mark Barden lives with December 14, 2012 every minute of his life. "I can remember very clearly what I was doing - and with Daniel - on those days," said Barden, whose seven-year-old son Daniel was among the 26 students and teachers killed in the Sandy Hook Tragedy.
Barden remembers clearly not just that day, but the days leading up to it. "December 12 was a Wednesday in 2012," recalls Barden. "I remember very clearly reading to little Daniel. He was getting to where he could read, too. So he would read me a book and I would read him something. And I remember putting my hand up the back of his little pajamas and feeling how soft his back was, and I just had this overwhelming feeling of him being vulnerable. So much so, that it carried over to the next day, which was Thursday, December 13. And I remember being extra careful walking him to the bus, just because I had this feeling that he was vulnerable. And I don't know where that came from or what that meant, but it felt like a premonition."
Barden described Daniel as an empathetic little soul. "We used to joke, we used to call Daniel the caretaker of all living things," said Barden. "And he truly was. He used to protect the worms from burning in the sun and take them off the sidewalk and put them in the grass. And he used to hold the door for strangers, and he used to look out for the kids sitting alone in his classroom."
Daniel's empathy, compassion and awareness for others now lives on through the work of Sandy Hook Promise, which Barden and two other Newtown parents co-founded in the wake of the tragedy. "We are having an impact and we are saving lives," said Barden.
The non-profit gun violence organization trains staff and students to recognize warning signs and address social isolation. "We try to get into the stream before the gun is even in the equation," said Barden.
The group's free programs are in more than 4,000 schools in all 50 states, and have been credited with preventing several suicides and school shootings, including one in Ohio. "An eighth grader who saw something on social media, who said I wouldn't have thought twice about this the day before I had this training, followed the model and was able to uncover a horrible tragedy that was in the final planning stages," said Barden.
Barden says its programs are launching in Chicago and Boston public schools. The organization is also debuting an app in 2018 that will allow anyone to anonymously report a safety concern.
At its core, Barden said the Sandy Hook Promise mission isn't about politics or guns, but about protecting kids through prevention. "I know that we're saving lives and we're seeing the evidence, so we just need to keep going," said Barden.
For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, click here.
The family has also created a website, What Would Daniel Do, with the goal of inspiring and encouraging people to act with kindness.