Turning Grief into Action
With Sandy Hook Promise, Nicole Hockley ’92 seeks to prevent gun violence and save young lives
“No parent should go through this,” Nicole Moretti Hockley ’92 told President Donald Trump earlier this year. “How many more deaths can we take as a country? How many more teenagers and 6- and 7-year-olds can we allow to die? Don’t let that happen anymore on your watch.”
Hockley—whose 6-year-old son, Dylan, was killed in 2012 by a gunman inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, along with 19 other children and six adults—was among a group of school shooting survivors, victims, and their families invited to the White House for a listening session following the shooting last February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff members.
“After Sandy Hook, they said we wouldn’t let this happen again, and yet it has continued to happen for five years,” Hockley said. “How can we help identify and get help for people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others before they pick up a weapon?”
To help answer this very question, Hockley turned her grief into action. Just one month after her son was killed, Hockley joined co-founders Tim Makris and Mark Barden—whose son Daniel also was killed—and gathered others impacted by the violence to form Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), a national nonprofit organization that works to prevent gun-related deaths of children due to crime, suicide, and accidental discharge. “After tragedy, people come together, and they want to do something that makes a difference. I felt that this was a platform I could lend my voice to and make some positive change,” Hockley said. “I didn’t want other families to experience what I had experienced. I didn’t want another mother to lose her child.”
SHP’s intent is to honor Dylan and all victims of gun violence by turning the Sandy Hook tragedy into a moment of transformation by offering programs that protect young lives. “Dylan’s voice is gone, his future is gone, and there’s so much pain, but there has to be something we can do to create something positive from this, to create his legacy,” Hockley said. “When I say the job is 24/7, I’m not exaggerating. It’s incredibly personal to me.”
SHP offers a suite of educational programs—with a focus on youth—that teach how to recognize the signs of a person who is at risk of hurting themselves or others, as well as how to intervene effectively. “These acts of violence are preventable when you know the signs,” Hockley said. “We’ve now trained 3.5 million kids and adults in all 50 states to know the signs and the tools to report them, we’ve helped to reduce bullying and other forms of victimization, we’ve gotten hundreds of kids the mental health help they need, and we have stopped multiple school shooting and suicide threats.” All of SHP’s programs are offered at no cost. “We don’t want money to ever be a barrier to saving a life,” Hockley said. Instead, the organization is supported primarily by donors.
SHP employs a staff of about 40, mostly based in the Newtown headquarters, with others in California, Ohio, Florida, and Washington, D.C., and a team of “Promise Presenters” who travel the country to deliver the programs in person. “Demand for our programs is exceptionally high, so we are scaling quickly in order to deliver,” Hockley said. As one of SHP’s three managing directors, Hockley is focused on marketing and communications, program development, and digital fundraising. She also serves as the media spokesperson and conducts seminars and speaking engagements.
Hockley said that her B.A. in English and theater from Trinity College helped drive her career in marketing and now helps in her work at SHP. “I am able to use my skills by crafting messaging and writing in a way that motivates someone to do something and informs them correctly,” she said. Hockley, who came to Trinity from her home state of Rhode Island, was active on the staff of The Trinity Tripod, serving as the newspaper’s editor during her senior year. She also was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma, participated in drama productions, and served as a resident assistant and an undergraduate coordinator. “My four years at Trinity were some of the most amazing years,” Hockley said. “I came back to campus for my 25th Reunion, and Trinity is still just as beautiful as it was 25 years ago.”
Today, the mission of SHP is what Hockley considers to be her life’s work. “This isn’t what I chose to do,” she said. “Obviously I never would have chosen for what happened at Sandy Hook to happen. But this is what I will be doing for the rest my life: teaching others to prevent tragedies where they live.”
For her work, Hockley was honored by Trinity with its 2017 Alumni Achievement Award, with her citation noting her “courage, hard work, and selflessness.” She also was recognized in 2016 by People magazine as one of its “25 Women Changing the World,” yet that’s not exactly how she sees it. Her motivation lies closer to home.
“I see myself as someone who wants to make a difference, and the reason I do that is because of my son Dylan, who is no longer living, and my son Jake, who is still surviving,” Hockley said. “I’m not trying to change the world; I’m just trying to help save lives and to make sure other people don’t have to walk in my shoes.”
For more about Sandy Hook Promise, please visit https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/.
The Sandy Hook Promise:
“I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools, and communities.”
Written by Andrew J. Concatelli