HARTFORD, Conn. – Sometime before Dec. 14, 6-year-old Jesse Lewis wrote three words on a chalkboard in his family’s Newtown, Conn., kitchen.
“Norturing, helin, love.”
Not long afterward, Jesse was one of 20 first-graders gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His effort to save his classmates, yelling for them to run while shooter Adam Lanza’s gun briefly jammed, has received wide attention. Six of those classmates escaped, seconds before Jesse was shot.
Now, his mother has written a book about the words Jesse left behind – a message now guiding her life.
Scarlett Lewis titled the book “Nurturing, Healing, Love.” It chronicles the life of a Sandy Hook parent in the months after the massacre.
It is also the first book by any family member of a victim of the shooting, which also claimed the lives of six women. All proceeds will go to the charity the author set up in her son’s honor, the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.
“Nurturing, Healing, Love,” which went on sale last week, includes passages about Jesse’s last few minutes of life and the brutal way he died. But it does not dwell on it, Scarlett Lewis said.
“It’s my journey of trying to turn an unspeakable tragedy into something that will make the world a better place,” she said.
After her son was killed, Lewis did not return home for several weeks. She and her older son, J.T., stayed at her mother’s house. A few weeks after Dec. 14, she came home and noticed Jesse’s message on the chalkboard.
“He had to have written that a few days before he died. Those are not words that are in a first-grader’s vocabulary,” Lewis said. “I feel he was sending us a message of comfort as well as inspiration on how to live our lives with him gone.”
She believes there were other signs from her son as well. Like the day a state trooper brought home a box of Jesse’s possessions from his desk at school. On top was a pencil drawing that appears to be a small angel standing in front of a giant figure dressed in black with a big head.
“All of Jesse’s other drawings were of ‘Star Wars’ or police cars, yet here was this picture of what is clearly a bad man with a child angel standing in front of him,” Lewis said.
Jesse loved “Star Wars,” as well as toy soldiers and playing soccer. Lewis said on many nights she would read to him until he fell asleep.
On the morning of Dec. 14, Jesse was going to get dropped off at school by his father, Neil Heslin, who had come to pick Jesse up to take him for hot chocolate before school.
While he waited outside, Jesse wrote the words “I Love You” in the frost on his mother’s car. His mom said she ran back into the house to get her phone to take a picture.
“He drew all these little hearts around the words,” Lewis said. “It was so cute that I wanted to take his picture before he left.”
Lewis, who has previously published a children’s book, did not set out to write a book about the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings. She started keeping a journal, recording her feelings and her struggles to understand why Lanza did what he did – and to contemplate if she could ever forgive him.
The idea came about when she attended an I Can Do It conference sponsored by Hay House, a self-help publisher, in February. The keynote speaker was noted author Wayne W. Dyer. When someone mentioned to him that Lewis was in the audience, he called her up to the stage.
She talked about coping with her son’s death and her struggles. Dyer encouraged her to write a book about her grief and recovery. Hay House agreed to publish it, and Dyer has written a foreword.
Her journals from the first six months after the shooting formed the basis of the book.
“This was such a worldwide tragedy and we had people from almost every country reach out. The effect of this tragedy was felt across the world,” Lewis said. “It’s a way to let people know how I am doing and to help people get through horrific tragedies.”
Among the passages is a story involving survivors of genocide in Rwanda. About a month after the shooting, Lewis grew concerned about J.T., who was having a hard time dealing with the loss of his brother. Then J.T. participated in a Skype conference with genocide survivors in Rwanda, who had heard about the Sandy Hook shooting.
“These children had watched their whole families get slaughtered, in some instances, and then ended up in orphanages and they were telling J.T. that someday he would feel joy again,” Lewis said.
The conversation affected her son so much that he started to raise money to help send a Rwandan genocide victim to college in the United States.
After hearing the stories of the Rwandan orphans, Lewis got the idea for the foundation as a way to memorialize Jesse.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation’s goal is to develop programs to help children deal with anger.
“There are a lot of angry kids and that rage builds up inside of them until it leads to violence like we saw here,” Lewis said. “We want to develop programs for schoolchildren about having compassion for one another.”
Lewis decided to practice what she was about to preach, trying to come to terms with her anger toward Lanza.
“If the children living in orphanages could forgive their neighbors who committed genocide, then I thought I can forgive the boy who killed Jesse,” Lewis said.