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Sandy Hook parent discusses school safety on LI

Mark Barden, who started the organization, Sandy Hook

Mark Barden, who started the organization, Sandy Hook Promise, after his son was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, speaks at a safety forum at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue on Thursday about his organization's efforts to stem gun violence.   Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The father of a 7-year-old boy killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting told a group of educators and law enforcement officials in Patchogue on Thursday that stopping another massacre is possible.

Mark Barden, founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group focused on preventing gun and other forms of violence, said his son, Daniel, died in the Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Connecticut shooting because the gunman made a choice.

“It was a choice that didn’t have to be made, and that is the root of prevention,” Barden told the crowd of more than 100 people gathered at a school safety forum at St. Joseph’s College.

The little boy, whose family referred to as the caretaker of all living things, was shot to death with 19 other first graders and six educators in a mass shooting committed by Adam Lanza, 20, who turned a weapon on himself in the school and took his own life.

Teachers, superintendents, law enforcement and college officials came to the college to learn more about the four programs Sandy Hook Promise offers and see whether to bring them into Long Island schools and communities.

Sandy Hook Promise offers educational programs that teach children and adults to recognize signs of distress and isolation that might lead troubled people to hurt themselves or others and show ways to get these at-risk individuals help.

The programs, offered at no cost, have been in use at the Half Hollow Hills Central School District for several years, Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said.

One of the Sandy Hook Promise programs is “Start with Hello”, which encourages students to seek out peers who may be shy and invite them into the group.

That was one of Daniel’s gifts, Barden said.

“In our house, he insisted we all sit at the table and have dinner together every night,” Barden told the audience. “And, every one of his teachers would tell us how he would notice somebody sitting alone and wanted to connect with them and see if they needed a friend to sit with them, just to brighten their day.”

Several Suffolk County deputy sheriffs recently completed training offered by Sandy Hook Promise, said Sheriff Errol Toulon, whose office organized Thursday's forum. 

Among those in attendance was Paul Casciano, superintendent of the Port Jefferson School District, and five of his staff members. The district’s three schools have about 1,200 students.

“I am very excited about all of them,” Casciano said afterward in reference to Sandy Hook Promise's programs. “There is so much value in this.”

Dennis O’Hara, superintendent of the Hauppauge School District, said there is no cure-all for mass shootings and the work of trying to keep students and faculty safe while they’re at schools is never done.

“This is why we’re here today,” O’Hara said. “We want to constantly be evolving. We want to constantly be getting better.”

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