MIAMI, Fla. — On a wall in Sandy Hook Promise’s crisis center, news articles, headlines and pictures serve as a reminder of why the men and women responding to tips from kids across the country do what they do.
The I-Team asked how it feels to continue adding stories to the wall as they come into work day after day.
“At times, it’s almost chilling,” manager Jessica Neely said. “We know that at any point in time, and at any school, perhaps happening right now, is someone thinking and contemplating a school shooting.”
The I-Team met Neely five days before 19 elementary school children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX.
Last week, the I-Team traveled to Miami for an exclusive visit inside Sandy Hook Promise’s national crisis center. The visit was part of a bigger story in the works, to give a behind-the-scenes look at how the nonprofit partners with thousands of schools across the country, including Pinellas County Schools, to protect children and get them needed help.
The crisis center answers calls and messages from the anonymous reporting system 24/7, 365 days a year, responding to anything from concerns about another student bringing a gun to school, to thoughts of self-harm.
“Every time we post another newspaper article of a possible planned school shooting, a planned school shooting, or even one that indeed happened, it is a constant reminder that we are here for our tipsters,” Neely said.
Reaching out to Neely after news of the Uvalde school shooting broke, she texted, “We are heartbroken in the Crisis Center, yet continue the work.”
National school safety advocate Max Schachter is a supporter of the crisis center and the 24/7 service it provides, connecting kids with crisis center counselors and then contacts in local school districts, to get the help they need.
He is also the father of Alex, one of the 17 victims murdered in the Parkland school shooting. He was 14 years old at the time.
Schachter spoke with the I-Team from Alex’s bedroom.
“This is where he loved to be, and Tom Brady was his favorite football player,” he said, referencing a Tom Brady cutout on the wall.
Safe Schools for Alex
The I-Team interviewed Schachter less than a week after the Buffalo supermarket shooting, after he had just returned from two days in Washington D.C., packed with meetings, “trying to move school safety legislation so that we don’t have another Buffalo, another Pittsburgh, another Parkland.”
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When the I-Team asked what gives him hope there will be change, Schachter paused and said, “I don’t have hope. Hah, I don’t have hope. I’m frustrated that it’s been four years and I can’t get Congress to pass this common sense, bipartisan pieces of legislation, but I won’t stop, I will do everything I can, this is my mission in life. So I’m really disappointed in Congress that they haven’t done more, we had over 200 mass shootings this year, and they’re not doing anything, and it’s so upsetting, it’s infuriating that day after day people are just being slaughtered and the people up in Washington D.C. that we pay and we hire to do our job are not doing their job.”
Four days later, the news broke of the shooting in Uvalde.
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Talking with Schachter again, he told the I-Team, “It’s heartbreaking for these parents. I mean I’ve been in their shoes and you know, you just hope that this is a nightmare that you can wake up from and you’ll have your little child home with you again, that you can tuck into bed and kiss and hug and it’s just — it’s just so sad that they now have to instead plan a funeral for their son or daughter and no one, no parent should ever have to do that.”
To the 21 families of the Uvalde shooting victims, Schachter said, “Parkland is here for you, we will walk alongside you and comfort them in their grief.”
He said, while the families will never move on, they’re going to move forward.
“They’re going to do the things they need to do to keep their children’s memory alive,” Schachter said.
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The I-Team’s special Full Circle report, which will include parents, students, school staff, police and counselors from the Sandy Hook Promise national crisis center in Miami, will air on ABC Action News in June.
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