Neil Heslin, the father of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, was among the Sandy Hook parents to address a legislative committee reviewing gun policy n Monday.
During his emotional testimony — which was interrupted by a false alarm caused by a malfunctioning piece of equipment in the basement of the Legislative Office Building — Heslin repeatedly called for greater restrictions on assault weapons.
“I just hope that everybody in this room…can support change,” he said. “I don’t know how many people have young children or children but just try putting yourself in the place I’m in…and having a child that you lost. It’s not a good feeling. It’s not a good feeling to look at your child laying in a casket or look at your child with a bullet wound to the forehead, it’s a real sad thing.
“I ask…if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason…why anybody…needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high capacity clips,” Heslin asked.
“The Second Amendment shall not be infringed,” a man shouted and several other people yelled as well.
State Sen. Martin Looney, who was presiding over the hearing, asked the crowd to refrain from responding. If they refused, he said he would “clear the room.”
Heslin said the people in the audience were entitled to their opinions. “And I respect their opinions and their thoughts but I wish they’d respect mine and give it a little bit of though and realize that it could have been their child that was in that school that day.”
Heslin brought a framed photograph of his son, taken when the boy was just six-months-old.
“He was my son, he was my buddy, he was my best friend,” Heslin said, his voice breaking. “I never thought I’d be here speaking like this, asking for changes on my son’s behalf. I never thought I’d be laying him to rest. The happiest of my life was the day he was born, he’s my only son, my only family.
“And the worst day of my life was the day when this happened and I buried him.”
Heslin said he’s not a gun owner now but he was raised in a household with guns. “In fact, I started skeet shooting when I was 8-years-old. I was educated on the safety of guns, my father was an avid hunter. I was hunting ever since I was…10 or 12 years old with him,” he said.
Heslin said he backs much stricter gun rules but also supports other policy changes. “There’s a lot of things that should be changed to prevent what happened. Mental health being a big part, going back to the basics. Better parenting. When I was raised, I was raised to respect my parents and my elders, not to kill my mother while she was sleeping,” he said. Police said Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, before driving to the school.
But Heslin kept returning to the need for gun control legislation. “I can’t see why any civilian, anybody in this room in fact, needs weapons of that sort,” he said.
“You’re not going to use them for hunting, even for home protection. Semi-automatic or automatic [weapons are] one of the most inaccurate weapons out there. The sole purpose of those AR -15 or AK-47s is to put a lot of lead out in a battlefield quickly and that’s what they do.
“And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14. That wasn’t just a killing, that was a massacre. Those children and those victims were shot apart. and my son was one of them.”
The morning of the shooting, Heslin dropped off his son at 9:04. “I saw the clock,” he recalled.
“I walked him into the school, he gave me a hug and a kiss…and I gave him a hug and a kiss back and he said goodbye. He said ‘I love you’ and he said ‘I love mom too.”’
They were going to make gingerbread houses later that day.
“We never made it,” Heslin said. “Twenty minutes after that my son was dead. There’s no reason for it.”
Heslin returned to the school an hour and a half later, along with other frantic parents. “It was like a military installation, SWAT team members, families…hysterical, state police from all over the state, FBI. It was unbelievable. Students there, looking to be reunited with their parents, parents looking for their children.”
Jesse was a student in Victoria Soto’s classroom, where 10 students survived. Afterward, he heard from some parents of those survivors that Jesse had shouted to his classmates to run.
“I hope those words helped those children survive,” Heslin said.