— Bear Nikitchyuk, 8, and another student were headed to the principal's office at Sandy Hook Elementary School with attendance sheets last Friday when they heard loud noises "like banging on a door" and ran, only to be pulled into a classroom by a quick-thinking teacher.
"These two wonderful kids were saved by the bravery of the wonderful teacher Mrs. (Abbey) Clements, which we'll forever be grateful for. ... She pulled them into her own classroom and barricaded the door and they were saved," said Bear's father, Andrei Nikitchyuk.
After Friday's shooting, the Newtown father said that he could no longer hope that someone else would do something about gun control and that he had to speak up. So, on Tuesday, Bear's father traveled to the nation's capital — as did other Newtown parents — and joined a press conference hosted by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. There he told the story of his third-grade son and his own story.
Nikitchyuk was part of a large group that included family members and survivors of gun violence, including attacks in Aurora, Colo., and Virginia Tech, and Seal Beach, Calif., at the House Triangle on Capitol Hill.
The group of still-grieving relatives who spoke at the press conference also delivered a letter to the White House and congressional leadership, seeking "a meaningful dialogue and swift action," according to a news release.
"We are Republicans and Democrats, from 'blue states' and 'red states,'" the letter states. "We live in cities, suburbs and rural areas. We are from many different walks of life. Some of us own guns. Some of us don't. We know that the overwhelming majority of Americans support sensible solutions that would have prevented many of our tragedies, and can prevent many more every day."
At the press conference, Nikitchyuk, an immigrant who has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, recounted his change of heart about guns.
"For many years, I watched what was happening in this country," Nikitchyuk said. "I held these beliefs — America has deep history with guns. It's part of American history. Gun owners and people who handle guns, they know how to keep them safe and be responsible."
"And, you know, every time something like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora were happening, I would avert my eyes and [would] still think that something would be done," he said. "But all those beliefs were shattered Friday. And now I think we all need to speak up. ... So, let's unite. Let's stop this partisan division. ... It's an issue of safety for our children. That's why I decided to step forward."
"I think, we are America, we can do it. This is a beautiful country," he said. "Let's make it back to the country it was — safe for kids."
Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Center, recited statistics about gun violence in the U.S. — that about 100,000 people are shot each year, about 30,000 fatally; that an estimated 40 percent of guns are purchased without background checks; that military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are readily available.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is leading an effort to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons.
Gross said at the press conference that many lawmakers who had been reliable votes for the gun lobby have changed positions because of the Newtown massacre.
A National Rifle Association statement released Tuesday said the organization is planning to host a news conference on Friday. The NRA, the statement said, "is made up of four million moms and dads, sons and daughters — and we were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown."
"Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting," the statement continued. "The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again."
Also in Washington on Tuesday were members of a new group called Newtown United that Rob Cox, a parent and organizer, described as a fledgling movement driven by "extremely fortunate parents who are thinking, 'What if it had been one of our kids?'"
"We're thinking," said Cox, who was not in Washington on Tuesday, "that we just can't allow this to happen again. ... We can lend our voice to a national tipping point."
Connecticut's U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal met with the Newtown delegation Tuesday and said the group made "a very deep and important impression.''
With Newtown residents and others affected by gun violence speaking out, there "will [be] political ramifications," Blumenthal said. "There are tectonic changes at work. The political ground is shifting and moving. … People who haven't revisited this issue are thinking about it. The brutality of the slaughter and the ages and innocence of these victims give it a whole new dimension."
The Brady Center has a petition available for signing at http://wearebetterthanthis.org/.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun