Following the events in Parkland, Florida, I reached out to my friend Colin Goddard. I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the Parkland survivors and the Never Again movement. Colin was shot multiple times in his Virginia Tech classroom. I had met Colin years ago through my aunt, Maria Cuomo Cole. Together, Colin and Maria began working on the documentary, Living for 32. In Living for 32, Colin shares an intimate account of what he and his classmates had endured at Virginia Tech. The film then chronicles his courageous journey to ensure there would be no more school shootings. That was in 2010.
Following the events of Newtown, a tragedy in which 20 children between the ages of six and seven (as well as six adult staff members) were shot and killed, Maria along with filmmaker Kim Snyder embarked on a three-year journey. They documented the aftermath of this deadliest mass shooting of schoolchildren in American history. The film, Newtown, went on to win a Peabody. Maria would share with me early, unedited clips of Newtown. The first time I watched these clips, I couldn’t sleep for a few days. Through Maria, I met Newtown’s Mark Barden who lost his son Daniel and Newtown school teacher and survivor Abbey Clements. In many ways, their stories were very similar to Colin’s.
It was Maria who taught me so much about gun violence in America. Maria was the one who made me feel like I should be in Washington D.C. for March For Our Lives. And it was in D.C., as I have written, that I met Parkland survivor-turned activist, Cas Becher and Cas’s mother Casey. Many elements of their story were similar to Colin’s and Mark’s and Abbey’s.
This past week, Maria and Kim premiered a follow-up to their award-winning film, Newtown at the Tribeca Film Festival. I attended the Sunday screening of their short: Notes from Dunblane: Lessons From a School Shooting. I sat next to my mom during the screening. My mom would grab my arm at moments of the film when the subjects were discussing losing children.
A panel followed the film. Joining the filmmakers were the two subjects from the film, Newtown clergyman Father Bod Weiss and Scotland priest Monsignor Basil O’Sullivan, and survivors of both Newtown and Parkland. The film won the jury prize for Best Documentary short at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon wrote an excellent recap of the panel, which included Parkland survivors, Dylan Kraemer and Ryan Deitsch and Sandy Hook survivor Mary Ann Jacob, a recap which I highly suggest you read.
In the audience were other survivors and family members of Parkland, including teacher Ivy Schamis, who also spoke. Two Parkland students died in her Holocaust history classroom; Ivy’s story reminded me of Abbey Clement’s, it was also similar to Mary Ann Jacob’s as they both noted.
To call Notes from Dunblane: Lessons Learned from a School Shooting a film about a school shooting would not be giving the film enough credit. It would also be wrong. “Notes from Dunblane” at its core is about the emotional connections we have to one another. It’s about the connections we have with strangers.
The film chronicles events following the Sandy Hook Massacre. Monsignor Basil O’Sullivan of Dunblane, Scotland reaches out to Father Bob Weiss of Newtown offering support 16 years after a school shooting in his town. Both men had to bury children following devastating shootings in their small, picturesque towns. Their stories were way too similar. These two strangers formed a bond across the Atlantic through a series of letters where they discuss their trauma and their responsibilities to their respective communities.
“Notes from Dunblane” is a film about how, at our core, we are compassionate people who in times of trauma are there for one another. Monsignor Basil O’Sullivan who faced the same trauma that Father Bob Weiss faced, burying children following a school shooting, reached out to Father Weiss to offer his support and to lend his ear. Father O’Sullivan would then travel to Newtown on the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook School Shooting. He flew to Newtown to not just help his new friend Father Weiss through a difficult time, but to also try and assist in healing a community that he understood perhaps better than anyone else through his own experiences.
The lesson that this film teaches us is that we are not alone in our various traumas. There are others just like you who are survivors of gun violence. There are others who are living with incurable diseases, who are dealing with PTSD while coming back from a war, who are sexually abused, who have lost a spouse or a child, or who are dealing with fertility complications. For every problem you are faced with, “Notes from Dunblane” highlights that there is someone else just like you out there who is willing to lend their support and help you through that painful time. The lesson from this film is that you do not need to go through the healing process alone. There is a network of others out there willing to listen and willing to help.
Colin Goodard is forever connected to Dylan Kremer and Cas Becher. Cas is forever connected to Abbey Clements and Mary Ann Jacob. Father Bob Weiss is permanently connected to Monsignor Basil O’Sullivan. The community of Parkland is linked to the towns of Dunblane, Newtown, Columbine, and Blacksburg. And it was the he towns of Dunblane, Newtown, Columbine and Blacksburg who reached out to help Parkland heal.
Here is the powerful video message that the town of Dunblane sent to Parkland:
There is a story of a young guy who falls into a hole while walking down the street. The walls are so steep that he cannot get out. After screaming for help for a while, a doctor passes by and notices there is a guy stuck in a hole. The guy shouts “Hey, can you help me out?” The Doctor reaches into to his pocket and writes a prescription, which he then throws down the hole and says “use this, it will help you get out of the hole.” The doctor leaves. After another round of screaming for help, a priest comes along. The guy in the hole screams, “Father, can you help me out?” The priest reaches into his pocket, writes down a prayer, throws it down the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, “Hey man, I am stuck in this hole, a doctor came by and took out a prescription pad…” and before he was done telling his story, the friend jumps down the hole. “Are you an idiot? Now we’re both stuck down here,” he says to his friend. His friend looks at him and says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
The biggest take away from Dunblane: Lessons from a School Shooting is to jump down the hole and help show them the way out.