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August 27th, 2013
07:29 PM ET

On first day of school, sense of loss hits father of Sandy Hook victim 'like a ton of bricks'

Mark Barden's 7-year-old son Daniel was one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

Tuesday was the first day of school for their two surviving children, Natalie, 11, and James, 13.

Barden said he and his wife Jackie were able to block out thoughts of the violence associated with the school, and get James and Natalie onto their school buses.

But when they returned home to an empty house, they were painfully reminded of their loss.

"It hit us like a ton of bricks, we just literally came apart at the seams," said Barden. "We just had to get out of the house."

So the Bardens got in their car to get away from their neighborhood. But as they drove, they saw kindergartners and first graders waiting for their buses – children that would have been Daniel's classmates.

"It was extremely difficult for us," said Barden, choking back tears.

As for James and Natalie, they were excited to go back to school, said Barden, and if they had concerns about security they "didn't express them to us, and to be honest I wouldn't expect them to because they also are very protective of us."

Barden is a member of the Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit group set up to provide help to the community in the aftermath of the attack. There have been several developments in the town since the shooting. Officials recently approved a plan to demolish the Sandy Hook school, which has not been used since December.

"I can't imagine anyone going back into there, I think that's what had to be done, considering what happened in that place," said Barden.

Students from Sandy Hook now attend a school in the nearby town of Monroe.

Last week, a young gunman walked into an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia, and was firing at police. 

Hearing about that incident "was horrifyingly familiar – a troubled 20-year-old goes into an elementary school with a semi-automatic assault rifle armed to the teeth with ... ammunition," said Barden.

Barden said he and his wife felt for the parents who had to wait hours to find out if everyone was okay, and for the children who had to go through that kind of trauma.

An employee working in the front office of the Georgia school, Antoinette Tuft, eventually convinced the young gunman to surrender. The suspect admitted he was off his medication, and needed help.

Barden said Tuft was a hero that day.

"She met violence with compassion and love," said Barden. "In that situation, she saved a lot of lives."

"She just spoke to him with conviction, and compassion, and love, and kindness, and patience. And you can see what kind of impact that had on him," said Barden.

Read: Newtown victim's father: Son known for reaching out to the kid sitting alone

Tuft's ability to recognize that someone was in trouble and needed help should be a model for everyone, said Barden.

"That's what my little Daniel was known for doing. He would talk to the kid sitting alone, he would notice somebody that needed a pat on the back, or a little comfort," said Barden.

"We need to do that, in our schools, in our society, we need to find those people that are sitting alone, and they might not need help, they might be in desperate need of help," said Barden. "Until you find out, until you go take that step, you don't know."

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