In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shooting, one mother, Veronique Pozner, became a voice for gun control and an emissary of grief for a nation trying to comprehend the scope of the tragedy.
Pozner’s 6-year-old son, Noah, was the youngest victim of Adam Lanza’s December 14, 2012 rampage, which took the lives of 19 other students and six teachers and faculty members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lanza also killed his mother and himself. It was the second deadliest shooting by a lone gunman in American history, after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
Three days after the massacre, Pozner eulogized Noah at his funeral, which was officiated by Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel. “The sky is crying and the flags are at half-mast. It is a sad, sad day. But it is also your day, Noah, my little man,” she said, giving the public its first glimpse of her unusual ability to describe her own overwhelming grief, even as she was living it.
Pozner, 46, would go on to become one of the most vocal Newtown parents, giving interviews with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and, joined by her family, with People Magazine. She described Noah as an energetic boy with long lashes, who asked questions about God and humanity, and whose best friend was his twin sister, Arielle, who survived in a nearby classroom.
Pozner also provided the public with a portrait of Jewish mourning. In an hour-long interview with the Forward nine days after the shooting, Pozner, who converted to Judaism in 1992, described how sitting shiva with her family gave her structure in those first harrowing days. She insisted on burying Noah in a tallit, even though he had not yet reached bar mitzvah age. She celebrated Hanukkah with Noah the night before he died, sharing the last photo of her son with a Connecticut panel on gun control in January. “It shows him holding up a lit Hanukkah candle and staring and smiling into its flame,” she told the panel. “I will forever cherish this photograph. He looked so innocent and full of wonder. He was cheated of his full potential. I can now only dream of the man he would have become.”
Pozner’s candor struck a nerve with the public. Her decision to view Noah’s body before the funeral — and her insistence that Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy do the same — prompted readers and commentators to compare her to Mamie Till Mobley, who demanded that her son, Emmet Till, have an open-casket funeral. “[Noah] looked like he was sleeping,” said Pozner. “But the reality of it was under the cloth he had covering his mouth there was no mouth left. His jaw was blown away. I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered.
They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.”
Pozner’s words appear to have resonated with Connecticut leadership, too. In April, the state legislature heeded the calls of Pozner and the other Newtown parents for gun control and passed the strictest gun control laws in the nation, including a ban on the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.
Before Newtown, Pozner was a private citizen leading a quiet life as an oncology nurse and mother. On December 14, 2012, she was involuntarily thrust into the limelight. But rather than shy away from the media onslaught, Pozner made the Herculean effort, as Rabbi Praver said, of communicating her grief to the public. In so doing, she kept Newtown and gun control on the national agenda.