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Rwandan Genocide Orphans Help Newtown Family Cope After Sandy Hook Shooting

Jessica Hill

Dec. 14 marks three years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Scarlett Lewis’s son, Jesse, was one of 20 children killed in the shooting.

After the shooting, Lewis was looking for ways her older son, J.T., could deal with the loss of his brother Jesse. Both Lewis and J.T. saw what felt like an endless stream of therapists.

“They’d put their hand on my knee and say everything’s going to be okay. The mourning time is a year and then you’ll move on," she said. "I don’t know what they said. I don't know what you're basing your knowledge on, but you don’t know what I’m going through.”

Then one therapist suggested Lewis and her son J.T. reach out to people who would know: a group of orphans whose parents died in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The therapist arranged for them to meet on Skype, and they’ve been in touch ever since.

“And they said, 'we wanted you to know that you’re going to be okay and you’re going to feel joy again.' I remember hearing that and going, oh my God, they’ve been through something worse than we’ve been through," she said. "And they’re telling us we’re going to be okay. Maybe there’s hope.”

Lewis also learned to forgive the shooter when one Rwandan orphan told her and J.T. she had forgiven the people who killed her parents in 1994.

“And she said, and then once I had that forgiveness in my heart, that gave me the strength to really look at my suffering and find meaning in it, and to use it to help other people, like I’m helping you, J.T.,” she said.

Lewis and J.T. just got back from visiting Rwanda. They spent a few days there over Thanksgiving and met those orphans in person for the first time. She said the orphans told her and J.T. they changed their lives, too.

Davis Dunavin loves telling stories, whether on the radio or around the campfire. He started in Missouri and ended up in Connecticut, which, he'd like to point out, is the same geographic trajectory taken by Mark Twain.