CHICAGO - It's painful, but Mark Barden held a picture of his son Daniel, 7, so dozens of Chicago students could see the boy's face. That's because Daniel Barden is no longer alive.
In December 2012, a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary and killed 20 children. Daniel was one of them. Now, his father is sharing that horrific story in hopes of preventing a death like Daniel experienced.
"It's a wonderful way to translate all the deep sorrow and pain I feel for my little Daniel, and bring something positive to these kids here in Chicago," Mark Barden said Thursday while visiting Chicago Public School students.
The students were clearly touched that Barden would visit their elementary school, sharing such an emotional journey.
"When something tragic happens to you, you wouldn't expect someone to be so strong and come here to give back when so much has been taken from them. I think that's was most touching for me," said Niya McIntyre, eighth grade student.
So, at Higgins Elementary on the far South Side, students listened to Barden and Nicole Hockley, mother of 6-year-old Dylan, who was also killed. The parents are part of Sandy Hook Promise, an organization which has launched the "Start with Hello" program. More than 4,200 schools across the nation are featuring the initiative.
"I feel it's my responsibility for Dylan's legacy and everyone else's that we can stop these acts before they happen, and people need to know that and how to do that," Hockley said.
The lesson boils down to three points - when you see someone alone, ready and help, and start with hello. The Sandy Hook killer was isolated.
"If someone had noticted him, validated him, perhaps he might have not made the decision to take his life and the lives of others at the same time," Hockley said.
After listening to a 4 -minute presentation, students heard the message. Delivered and understood
"It's going to bring a lot of kids much closer together," said Amadejah Shepherd, eighth grade student.
Along with listening, the students wore T-shirts with the message and posted artwork throughout the school, using #startwithhello. It's a poignant message; simple but also, perhaps, life changing.
"It really opened our eyes to see when people are alone how it affects their lives," Daniela Seals, eighth grade student, said.
And fellow student Najee Collins added, "It will change how I act. It will make me want to walk up to them and make them feel better."
And that's the point. You can make a difference if you reach out to someone, if you just say hello. In the end, two parents sharing their message in hopes of changing the future.
"I know we impacted a lot of kids today," Hockley said, adding "and that could potentially end up saving a life."
On a mission to save lives, just by reaching out.