On Dec. 14, Alexis Haller was on the phone working on a legal brief for the Vatican when his mother texted him to say that there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. His nephew was missing.
Haller, a litigator in Washington state, monitored the news and felt his stomach drop when reports emerged that an entire classroom of children had been killed. Confirmation of the worst came later that day. His nephew, Noah Pozner, 6, had been shot 11 times at close range with a semiautomatic weapon, making him the youngest of the 26 people slain that day at the school.
President Obama formally unveiled new gun-control polices Wednesday, and referenced several of the most violent shootings of the past few years.
(MC.Farine) - Noah Pozner was one of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
One month later, Haller found himself in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, the soft-spoken 39-year-old with rimless glasses and exhausted eyes sat in the front row of an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the president and vice president announced new gun-control measures. Haller had crafted and forwarded several proposals to prevent future gun violence that were shaped by his experience as a lawyer for the Holy See. He also had publicly criticized the administration for what he considered an initial failure to reach out to victims and their families. In a political environment in which victims are often used as backdrops for a photo opportunity, Haller decided to use his awful status as an opportunity for advocacy.
“The thing my whole family on my sister’s side latched on to right away was we have to make something positive come out of it,” he said.
Before heading to the office building on Wednesday morning, Haller grabbed a pair of socks off the wall of clothier Jos. A. Bank. He had flown in late the night before, and the airline had lost his luggage in Burbank, Calif. An aide to Vice President Biden had offered to lend the visiting lawyer her husband’s blazer, but Haller preferred to shop for his own clothes. While sifting through suits and ties (“My nephew’s favorite color was blue”), he talked about his family’s “nightmare” month.
On the night of the shooting, Haller arrived in Connecticut to help lighten the logistical load for his sister, coordinating with a state trooper assigned to meet the family’s needs and establishing a Web site to collect donations to pay for counseling and education for Noah’s siblings, including his twin sister. He received an expression of support from the Holy See, met President Obama at Sandy Hook (“He was devastated”) and eulogized Noah at his funeral (“He would have become a great man”). When Haller’s wife, an active blogger, learned that a fake account had been set up in Noah’s name, the Princeton- and Stanford-educated Haller decried the scam on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.” The FBI thanked him, Haller said, for preventing more fraudulent activity.
Haller returned to Seattle on Dec. 28 to meet a deadline on the Vatican brief, but made time to talk to school-safety experts and read the Secret Service report on the shootings at Columbine High School. As he pored over research, he kept finding incidences of “leakage,” a term describing when a person intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues that may signal an impending violent act.