Newtown, Conn. mother turns sorrow into action

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December 13, 2013, 6:07 pm
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(NECN: Brian Burnell, Newtown, Conn.) - Nurturing healing love. The last message Jesse Lewis left his mom before he was murdered in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School - words Scarlett Lewis has lived by in the year since.

"We are Sandy Hook, we choose love. We started the movement and that is going to move forward. I think when people think about our town that's what they think of," she says.

To encourage others to choose love, Scarlett started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, which is dedicated to teaching children to be compassionate. A chance meeting at Jesse's gravesite shows how Scarlett is living that message. That's where Scarlett met Michelle Palmieri.

"Jesse brought us together and in some way this is all connected," she says.

It was a snowy day soon after Jesse's death. Michelle was driving through Newtown when she stopped to pay her respects.

"We ended up at Jesse's grave through a feeling that we had had to be there," Michelle says.

Scarlett remembers, "I did invite them back to the house for tea and we developed a friendship after that."

Their connection stayed strong and, almost a year later, it was Michelle who would lean on Scarlett.

Michelle grows quiet as she recalls, "If you saw that car, no one should have gotten out of that car."

An horrific November car crash involving an alleged drunk driver took the lives of Michelle's great niece and nephew, 5-year-old Tatiana and 8-year-old Lorenzo Cruz. Their mother, father and brother survived. Michelle says Scarlett's immediate offer to help touched the family even through their grief.

"It was overwhelming. Somebody who has lost children and understands is reaching out and that's a comfort," she says.

Scarlett held a fundraiser through her foundation to raise money for a memorial fund set up in Tatiana and Lorenzo's name.

"I was so happy to be able to do something for someone else and it's so small compared to the pain that they're feeling but it's something and in doing something for them I'm also helping my own healing," Scarlett says.

It's all part of choosing love. Jesse's brother, J.T., chose love by starting NewtownHelpsRwanda.org, raising money to help Rwandan genocide survivors who reached out to him in the days after Jesse died.

"The ultimate mission of my foundation is to continue the momentum that the world started on Dec. 14, and that was a movement to Choose Love."

Tags: connecticut, Newtown, Brian Burnell, Sandy Hook, sandy hook elementary school, jesse lewis, Sandy Hook School shooting, Scarlett Lewis, Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, Michelle Palmieri
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