‘The World Moves On And You Don’t.’ Parents Who Lost Children in School Shootings Find Comfort in a Group No One Wants to Join

‘The World Moves On And You Don’t.’ Parents Who Lost Children in School Shootings Find Comfort in a Group No One Wants to Join

These seven parents each lost children in school shootings.  [Photo: Adam Ferguson for TIME]

These seven parents each lost children in school shootings. [Photo: Adam Ferguson for TIME]

Mitchell Dworet and Melissa Willey have never met and don’t have much in common. Dworet, whom everyone calls Mitch, is an outgoing real estate agent from a busy part of Florida; Willey is a reserved stay-at-home mother of nine from a small town in southern Maryland. But one thing unites them: both had kids on a high school swim team, and now both of those kids are dead.

Dworet’s 17-year-old son Nicholas was killed during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in February. Soon after, some parents of other children who had been victims of gun violence contacted Dworet, offering him support, guidance and understanding. A month later, 1,000 miles north in Maryland, Willey’s daughter Jaelynn, 16, was shot to death by a fellow student at Great Mills High School. When Dworet heard about it, he contacted Willey on Facebook. “I felt like I should reach out,” he says. “I wanted to pay it forward.”

An invisible network of similar threads connects hundreds of grieving parents across America. The connection is not formal. There is no organizational structure, no listserv, no roster of names. But their bond is strong enough that they often describe themselves—glibly but also in earnest—as “the club.” There is only one criterion for membership: you sent a child to school one day and then never saw them again because of a bullet, leaving you with pain, loss and perhaps even other shattered children. “It’s a club you spend your whole life hoping you won’t ever become a part of,” says Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan, 6, was killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. “But once you’re in, you’re in.”

Haley Sweetland Edwards and Belinda Luscombe, writing for Time Magazine, profile “The Club” — a group of parents who have lost children in school shootings. It’s a club no one wants to join.

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