Life has been forever changed for the families of the 26 victims killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago Monday.
For the family of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the journey to forgiveness has gone through a third world country.
Eyewitness News sat down with his mother Scarlett Lewis as she shared her story.
"They live in red brick houses made from mud,” Scarlett Lewis said.
Scarlett Lewis has just returned from a trip to Africa. She reflected on the poverty, coupled with resilience and beauty, of a land a world away.
"Rwanda is called the land of 1,000 hills and it really is so beautiful,” Scarlett Lewis said.
But underneath that beauty, Scarlett Lewis said there is a dark history.
An estimated one million people were killed in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994. A terribly violent past Scarlett Lewis said she had only read about until after her own son was taken so violently.
"At that point, we were really kind of not moving forward,” Scarlett Lewis said. “We were angry."
Scarlett's youngest son was killed inside his classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary. Scarlett Lewis said he was the only one found facing his killer, after helping several of his classmates escape. After his death Scarlett Lewis said and her surviving son JT didn't know what to do.
"Up until then it had been people coming into the house saying, you know you're going to be fine, it just takes time and things like that,” Scarlett Lewis said. “But to me they had no credibility because to me they had never been through anything like I had."
Then, a group of orphans who had lived through Rwanda’s genocide reached out to Scarlett Lewis and JT through Skype. Scarlett Lewis said she'll never forget what they said.
"We wanted to reach out to you to let you know that you're going to be OK,” Scarlett Lewis said. “And you're going to feel joy again."
The very next day, JT went back to school and soon started a group called Newtown Helps Rwanda. They worked to help those genocide survivors go to college.
"We just realized that in order to kind of get out of the deep and dark pit we were in, we needed to practice forgiveness,” Scarlett Lewis said.
That path to forgiveness is what led them to the land of a thousand hills this year.
In Rwanda, the survivors of the genocide have to live side by side with those who murdered their families. Scarlett Lewis said she realized if they could forgive, so could she.
"Forgiveness was something that I had to do to forgive Adam Lanza, to survive myself to not become another victim to not let anger destroy me,” Scarlett Lewis said.
By the time Scarlett Lewis and JT met with the survivors over Thanksgiving, she said they felt like they had known them for a lifetime.
"They reached out to us in our darkest hour, and they gave us this formula for moving forward, for healing and forgiveness and for choosing love,” Scarlett Lewis said.
That same formula is what Scarlett Lewis said she found on the chalkboard in her house days after Jesse Lewis had been killed. Written phonetically in his 6-year-old handwriting, were three words; nurturing, healing, love.
"It was one of those moments where you say, ‘OK, I’m listening,’” Scarlett Lewis said.
She's started a foundation in honor of those values. It’s called the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation. It focuses on social and emotional learning, to help kids understand the brain science behind their feelings. Her hope is to empower all kids, the same way a group of orphans from African have empowered her.
"This connection that was made through shared suffering. They opened their hearts to us, we in turn opened our hearts to them,” Scarlett Lewis said. “And this bond of love that will last an entire lifetime was forged."
To learn more about the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, click here.
To learn more about Newtown Helps Rwanda on our website, click here.
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