How the deadliest mass shooting at Sandy Hook changed America’s schools

  • Since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, school design with security in mind has changed dramatically in places that can afford the upgrades.
  • Yet many of America’s schools haven’t changed at all and can’t afford the sophisticated features embedded in the new Sandy Hook.
  • Architects and designers who build and modify K-12 schools agree that design alone can help but cannot stop or prevent school shootings altogether.

Meg Tarpey and her younger sister survived the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School 10 years ago, then watched the site of that massacre be demolished and a new school built in its place.

In 2016, Tarpey, her sister and their mother visited the new building for the first time along with a comfort dog. Sandy Hook had been reimagined, with community input, incorporating a footbridge leading to the entrance of the school, a gate surrounding the campus and floor-to-ceiling windows for easy views of anyone approaching the school.

“That day was really hard, because in a way I felt like they’re trying to get rid of what happened, like moving on from it,” said Tarpey, who was in third grade, and her sister in first, when the shooter with an AR-15 assault weapon blasted into their Newtown, Connecticut, school.

Years later, Tarpey, now 18 and speaking in one of her first interviews with media since the Dec. 14, 2012 killings, said she’s come to realize visiting the new site gave her back a piece of herself.

“There’s an aspect of it that is really beautiful,” she said, “making something beautiful from tragedy.”

A makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre.

Since the 26 deaths at Sandy Hook, at least a dozen schools, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, have been the site of mass shootings or killings, according to a USA TODAY, Associated Press and Northwestern University database. A compendium of guidance has been developed on constructing schools to prevent such killings. Yet no national database tracks remodeled or new buildings that incorporate school safety features.

More:Shots fired in US schools spiked dramatically last year, gun violence report finds

But many experts suggest the changes are creating a system of haves and have nots, where many school districts, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods of color, are left exposed, unable to afford significant upgrades. In addition, these changes may only slow someone intent on killing others and are unlikely to stop them altogether.