Newtown activists bring anti-gun message to Congress

Marie-Therese Morosky, 6, turns to look at her father, Andrew Morosky of Newtown, while traveling on a bus with members of the Newtown Action Alliance to lobby for gun control legislation in Washington. Marie-Therese had four friends who died in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Marie-Therese Morosky, 6, turns to look at her father, Andrew Morosky of Newtown, while traveling on a bus with members of the Newtown Action Alliance to lobby for gun control legislation in Washington. Marie-Therese had four friends who died in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Washington - On a parked charter bus just before 6 a.m. in Newtown, 3 miles from where 20 of her peers were gunned down in December, 6-year-old Marie-Therese Morosky was torn between the novelty of the early hour and the comfort of her pillow.

Novelty won.

"She texted me, 'Are the kids sleeping?'" said Andrew Morosky, 47, of his wife. In the seat in front of him, 9-year-old Pearl was lost in a book, curled up at the window; Marie-Therese was giving her dad bunny ears, grinning impishly.

"Sort of," he texted back.

The sisters were the youngest of the 32 members of the Newtown Action Alliance who filed dutifully onto a bus in a parking lot of Newtown's municipal complex early Wednesday morning, bound for Capitol Hill.

The alliance is one of many gun control advocacy groups, along with family members of the victims of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook shootings, that have descended on Washington to mark the halfway point to the first anniversary. Too short for the full-out memorials that December surely will bring, but a rallying point. Anything to get lawmakers' attention. Anything to get this done.

Po Murray, one of two vice chairmen, said the alliance formed after a group of Newtown residents traveled to Washington in January to march for gun control. As one of the 17 co-founders of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, which emerged in the days following the shootings to marshal support for the community, Murray, 45, said she felt compelled to help a group devoted solely to activism get off the ground. Now, the alliance's Facebook puts it at about 3,600 strong.

"I usually call myself an accidental activist - like most of us," Murray said. "We're moms and dads and ordinary people participating in lobbying our lawmakers."

Ordinary people, connected by horrific circumstance - Murray, who lives with her family on Charter Ridge Drive, a street "full of swing sets and people walking dogs" just around the corner from where Adam Lanza shot his mother; the chaplain who saw blown-apart faces in the morgue and watched as parents identified tiny corpses as their children; the mother whose child was pulled from an open hallway to the safety of a classroom by a heroic teacher.

They arrived in the nation's capital Wednesday afternoon armed with letters asking senators to resurrect April's failed background check legislation and House members to co-sponsor their version - packets an inch thick, containing signatures from 80 organizations; lists of every American gun death since Newtown, and stories to bring their point home: in New Jersey, the 4-year-old who shot a 6-year-old; in Alabama, the husband who shot his wife; in Michigan, the 9-year-old shot by a stranger.

Before returning to Connecticut tonight, the group will don green T-shirts for a human "ribbon of remembrance" on the Hill and will host a press conference with congressional leaders. It also will hold ceremony at which the names of those lost to gun violence since December will be read.

Though most on the bus were Newtown residents, several who feel connected to the cause were welcomed into the fold - such as Lauren Green of Lebanon, who never will forget weeping and praying as she drove her twin boys to school on the Monday after.

She joined because it wasn't a fight for Newtown to fight alone, she said.

"They are still very much in shock," she said. "They are still grieving, but they're doing this anyway. And they're not stopping. They're doing this for the long haul. They know what they're up against."

Green said she finds the political system dishearteningly complex, as the group saw throughout the day Wednesday as legislative aides waffled, policy advisors demurred, wide-eyed interns provided only business cards and nary an actual elected official would commit.

But Green still believes.

"When stuff like this happens, it usually goes away very quickly," she said. "These people are not going away."

And if they don't do it, Murray said, who will?

"It's a necessary thing to do," she said. "Unless people like us act, then they're not going to act. If communities (that) have been so greatly affected like this sit back and (don't) demand action from Congress, then others are not going to do it, either."

That's how Miranda Pacchiana, 43, and Jennifer Killin, 38, came to sit on that bus, wearing matching charm bracelets designed by Pacchiana's daughter in memory of 6-year-old Avielle Richman.

Killin has two first-grade boys at home, in whose faces she said she sees those of the dead every day.

"I never thought about it," she said. "Just like 90 percent of the country, we said, 'Oh that's terrible,' whenever a shooting happened. And as soon as the coverage stopped, I went on with my life."

"As Newtown, we have a voice that people are interested in hearing from. I feel obligated to use that," Pacchiana said. "It's happened in our town to our citizens. We want to honor them and honor their lives."

"We realized that we needed to be a part of the movement and that we could be really strong leaders," Killin added. "The whole country was looking to us to see what we would do."

For Morosky and his girls, it's a cause worthy of two missed school days. His family lives a mile and a half from Sandy Hook Elementary School. A Bethel public works director, Morosky knew Benjamin Wheeler and Charlotte Bacon from his Sunday school class; Caroline Previdi and Catherine Hubbard played soccer with Marie-Therese.

He and his wife Katherine got involved with the group when they needed a way to channel their grief and frustration.

"We were looking for a place to put our energy," he said. "Newtown Action was right in our backyard."

During the two-day trip, Morosky said his daughters will learn the important lesson of how to make a change in the world.

"You try, you don't give up, you put pressure on, you talk to people, you write letters, you write emails, make signs. You do all the things that you have to do to get the message across," he said, "and eventually, people will change their minds."

a.isaacs@theday.com

Nicholas Payne of New Milford sits in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington holding a photo of his daughter, Rebecca, who was murdered while attending college in Boston. He and his wife, Virginia Payne, bottom, are members of the Brady campaign who joined the group from the Newtown Action Alliance on the trip because they wanted to support Newtown. The Paynes are sitting with Carole Clarkson of New Canaan, whose daughter, Jennifer Killin of Newtown, is a founding member of alliance.
Buy Photo Dana Jensen/The Day Nicholas Payne of New Milford sits in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington holding a photo of his daughter, Rebecca, who was murdered while attending college in Boston. He and his wife, Virginia Payne, bottom, are members of the Brady campaign who joined the group from the Newtown Action Alliance on the trip because they wanted to support Newtown. The Paynes are sitting with Carole Clarkson of New Canaan, whose daughter, Jennifer Killin of Newtown, is a founding member of alliance.
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