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How two mothers bonded in the wake of a Nashville school shooting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today is the one-year anniversary of the Covenant School shooting in Tennessee that left six people dead, including three children. Rose Gilbert from member station WPLN sat down with two mothers who bonded over their gun reform activism in the months following this tragedy.

ROSE GILBERT, BYLINE: The Covenant School shooting provoked an outpouring of grief and outrage that brought new urgency to the local gun reform movement, a movement led largely by moms - moms like Shaundelle Brooks and Sarah Shoop Neumann, who are both regulars at the Tennessee State Capitol.

SHAUNDELLE BROOKS: Thanks, Sarah.

SARAH SHOOP NEUMANN: Thank you.

GILBERT: Brooks is a mother of four who lost her son, Akilah DaSilva, in a mass shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House in 2018. She's been a fierce advocate for gun reform ever since and is now running for a state House seat.

BROOKS: I don't want to lose another child. It is hard. It's six years, and it feels like yesterday. I don't want to lose another child.

GILBERT: She met Neumann after the mass shooting at the Covenant School, where Neumann's son is a student. Neumann says she wasn't very involved in politics before the shooting, but that changed.

NEUMANN: When I started getting in the scene, everybody just was, do you know Shaundelle? Do you know Shaundelle?

GILBERT: The two quickly bonded over the exhausting and tedious work of attending committee meetings, tracking gun bills and trying to meet with legislators.

NEUMANN: It's really hard. It's hard when, you know, they tell you, this is going to be on this schedule, and then you devote three hours, and you are away from your family. And then it's not really heard, and then so you go the next time, and then it's still not heard. And you're - you know, it's - you're wasting all of these hours, away from family, not working.

GILBERT: But they say they keep doing it for their kids. Brooks says that even though Neumann didn't lose her son, she knows they both understand the horror and trauma that comes from having your children exposed to gun violence.

BROOKS: You know, I'm - it's sad that we met under these circumstances, but it feels good when a text shows up from Sarah, and she's super encouraging. I'm happy to have her.

GILBERT: As the one-year anniversary of the shooting approached, Neumann says her 6-year-old started asking questions she didn't know how to answer.

NEUMANN: He wants to know what they've done to make sure - what if another person tries to come in? How will they be stopped now? He's asked how many other schools this has happened at.

BROOKS: Children of this generation - the things that they have to deal with and the burden that they have to carry and the fear of this happening - you know, and to hear Sarah say her 6-year-old - you know, these are the conversations that they need to hear. These are the things they need to hear.

GILBERT: By the way, Brooks means the state legislature. Tennessee's gun laws have not changed much since the Covenant School shooting, due largely to push back from the conservative supermajority in the Tennessee legislature. But Neumann says she remains hopeful.

NEUMANN: You know, you want to see any beauty you can come from the ashes. And if Covenant brought together communities all across this town and from all different walks of life, then I just - I pray that that continues.

GILBERT: Brooks and Neumann, at least, plan to keep staying in touch and keep showing up at the state Capitol.

For NPR News, I'm Rose Gilbert in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAY LAMONTAGNE'S "PART TWO - A MURMURATION OF STARLINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rose Gilbert