Parents in Texas are just beginning to grapple with losing a child to indiscriminate violence. For mothers and fathers of the first graders who died in the Sandy Hook school shooting, unfathomable loss is something they have known for a decade.
It is the case for Jennifer Hubbard, who lost her daughter in that shooting in 2012. Catherine Violet Hubbard would be a teenager by now.
Hubbard has remained dedicated to giving back to the Sandy Hook community, which is why she is now being honored by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut for her work at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Sanctuary in Newtown.
She spoke to NBC Connecticut before the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed. Hubbard has no comment on that shooting. Like so many touched by gun violence, she is still processing the tragedy.
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Even though her daughter has been gone for a decade, Hubbard is ensuring that Catherine’s legacy is very much alive.
On a peaceful street in Sandy Hook, Catherine Violet Hubbard still has a prominent place.
“This was Catherine in the fall, we had gone pumpkin picking,” Hubbard said, pulling out a photograph of the little red-headed girl.
Catherine was six when she was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“She was shy, and gentle. She was very much a homebody,” Hubbard said. “But once you met Catherine, her personality just exploded.”
In a photograph taken on her third birthday, a toddler Catherine is surrounded by violet streamers. Her birthday is June 8, and she would have been turning sixteen years old this year.
Instead, on that date, Hubbard is being honored for her work at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, the recognition coming from the Girl Scouts.
“The Legacy Award that I'm receiving is a huge honor, because Girl Scouts was a part of my life with Catherine,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard was a troop leader for Sandy Hook Elementary, and Catherine was a Daisy, the youngest level of Scouts.
“She was cute as a button!” Hubbard said with a laugh. “They wore these blue smocks. She just thought it was, she was the cat's meow in that smock!”
The girls in the Troop chartered their adventures.
“One of our last field trips was to the grocery store, and I can hear them laughing and giggling. I can't walk into that grocery store now and not smile thinking that they graced that place,” Hubbard said.
Yet those lives, filled with promise, were cut short.
“It was 10 girls that were lost,” Hubbard said.
Those ten were in addition to her own daughter.
“All of the girls that were part of the Daisy troop, were in the same classroom,” she said.
The tragedy left a community, school, troop and families changed irrevocably.
“My life has changed dramatically in ten years,” Hubbard said. “I think grief is such an unusual thing. For me personally, working through the grief of losing Catherine has been transformational.”
Transformational, because of her dedication to the sanctuary, and carrying on Catherine’s crusade of compassion to animals.
“She would actually send them off with a whisper, kind of a plea, to bring back to their friends. And she would ask them to tell their friends that she was kind,” Hubbard said.
The state gifted 34-acres of land to the sanctuary in 2014, and it is indeed a safe haven.
“If we can create a space where animals know that humans are kind and that they will be safe, then we're honoring Catherine's wish,” Hubbard said.
Each year in June, dozens of butterflies take flight to the heavens.
“We honor Catherine's birthday through the sanctuary with Catherine's Butterfly Party,” Hubbard said.
A celebration of beauty, reflecting the kind spirit of Catherine Violet Hubbard.
“So many people in this world, encounter tragedy and grief,” Hubbard said. “Right now, there's probably a family that's facing the loss of their child. To be afforded with the opportunity to honor Catherine's legacy, it’s a huge opportunity that we’ve been afforded. And incredibly humbling.”
Catherine’s Butterfly Party will be on Saturday, June 11, from 12 to 4 p.m. at the Catherine Violet Hubbard Sanctuary in Newtown.
Hubbard is one of three women being recognized by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut at the Legacy of Leadership Luncheon in Darien on June 8, Catherine’s birthday.
The Girl Scouts say they chose to honor Jennifer for “the courage, confidence, and character she exhibits to forge ahead through unfathomable grief, creating a place of healing for her family and their community.”