On December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 first-grade students and six teachers. Nicole Melchionno, who was 7 years old at the time, was in a nearby classroom when the shooting began and was unsure if she would ever see her family again.
Melchionno is now 17 years old and has decided to turn her tragedy into triumph as she fights for school safety and gun violence prevention. She recently spoke with PEOPLE about the terror she experienced inside that classroom 10 years ago, along with the anxiety and trauma she still experiences to this day.
“Kids shouldn’t have to worry when they go to school,” she said in her interview, adding that she was in the front of her classroom and feared that she would be the first one shot if the gunman entered. Luckily, law enforcement officials arrived and the surviving victims were eventually reunited with their families.
In the weeks, months, and years following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, Melchionno experienced nightmares, had difficulty falling asleep and was suffering from crippling anxiety. As school shootings became more common in the United States, she knew she wasn’t alone in her struggles.
Melchionno decided to use her own experience with tragedy to help prevent the same from happening to others. She started becoming more involved in gun violence prevention and advocating for safer schools across the country in 2018 – she was only in the eighth grade but was ready to make a difference.
She took part in the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. in 2018 in hopes of pushing for gun control legislation and joined the Junior Newtown Action Alliance in 2020 – eventually becoming their legislative coordinator. Through all of that, she was learning to manage her anxiety and recover from the tragedy.
After learning of the Robb Elementary School shooting earlier this year, Nicole Melchionno felt like she needed to up her efforts. “It sparked something in me. I felt that I needed to do more,” she said to PEOPLE. Over the past few months, she has continued her fight for better gun control and less violence.
The 10-Year Anniversary of Sandy Hook Shooting Approaches
The 10-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting is on Wednesday and it’ll create a somber moment for those impacted by the gunman’s erratic behavior a decade ago. Melchionno joined hands with other survivors at the Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence on December 7th.
Sponsored by the Newtown Action Alliance Foundation (NAAF), the Annual National Vigil took place at the National Cathedral and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. It’s an event that’s held every year as gun violence and mass shootings become more popular in cities all across the country.
“By this December, over one million Americans will be killed or injured by guns since the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy,” the NAAF said recently, urging others to ‘join the gun violence prevention community in our collective effort to continue to shine a light on the devastating epidemic of gun violence in our nation.’
As for Nicole Melchionno, she plans on continuing her efforts to ignite change in her community and in communities around the world. Of course, she’s also a regular teenager that does regular teenager things – including preparing for life as a college student. Nonetheless, she’s hopeful for change in the future.
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