Nurturing, healing, love.
It was the last message Jesse Lewis left his mom before he went to school at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. They’re the words Scarlett Lewis has lived by in the year since Jesse’s death.
"We are Sandy Hook, we choose love. We started the movement and that is going to move forward. I think when people think about our town that's what they think of,” she said.
To encourage others to choose love, Scarlett started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, which is dedicated to teaching children to be compassionate. Now, a chance meeting at Jesse's gravesite is showing how Scarlett is living that message.
"Jesse brought us together and, in some way, this is all connected,” explained Michele Palmieri.
Michelle met Scarlett on a snowy day soon after Jesse's death. She was driving through Newtown when she stopped to pay her respects.
"We ended up at Jesse's grave through a feeling that we had to be there,” she recalled.
At the same time, Jesse’s mom was also paying tribute at his grave.
"I did invite them back to the house for tea and we developed a friendship after that,” said Scarlett.
Their connection stayed strong. Almost a year later, it was Michele who would lean on Scarlett.
When a horrific November car crash involving an alleged drunk driver took the lives of Michele's great niece and nephew, 5-year-old Tatiana and 8-year-old Lorenzo Cruz, Scarlett was right there to help.
“It was overwhelming,” she said, “Somebody who has lost children and understands is reaching out and that's a comfort."
The children's mother, Gina Schroder, father, Michael Cruz and 12-year-old brother, Lorenzo survived the crash. Michele said Scarlett's immediate offer to help touched the family even through their grief.
Scarlett held a fundraiser through her foundation to raise money for a memorial fund set up in Tatiana and Lorenzo's names.
"I was so happy to be able to do something for someone else, and it's so small compared to the pain that they're feeling. But it's something, and in doing something for them, I'm also helping my own healing,” said Scarlett.
It's all part of choosing love. In the year since Jesse was killed, the foundation set up in his name has partnered with compassion expert Dr. Chris Kukk to create a compassion curriculum that is being piloted in two Connecticut schools next fall.
Jesse’s brother JT has started a website, called www.newtownhelpsrwanda.org, in order to raise money to help Rwandan genocide survivors. They are some of the many people who reached out to him in the days after Jesse died.
"The ultimate mission of my foundation is to continue the momentum that the world started on December 14th, and that was a movement to choose love,” Scarlett said.