It was five years ago this week (December 14, 2012) that Adam Lanza, 20, shot to death 20 children and 6 adult staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut before taking his own life. The massacre shocked the country and ignited a debate about gun control and mental health.
Hamburg resident, Melanie Bunch, lost her cousin and best friend, school principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, in the shootings.
"I am not angry anymore. I am sad because there is a big hole in my heart because I lost my best friend that day," added Bunch.
Bunch grew up in downstate New York where her family and Dawn Hochsprung's in Connecticut stayed close.
Melanie Bunch now works for the University at Buffalo.
Looking back on the tragic events, Bunch said her family was thrust into the national spotlight as media crews rushed to interview them and put them on TV. However, five years later, Bunch said the death of Dawn Hochsprung has hit her really hard because it has been "five years that she has been out of my life."
During a conversation with 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly, Melanie Bunch explained that her anger over the murder was so intense, that she finally had to pen a letter to killer Adam Lanza (who killed himself when police closed in) saying she "forgave him" because it was possible that his family did not seek appropriate mental health care for Lanza's issues.
Melanie Bunch is also dedicating herself to keeping Dawn Hochsprung's legacy alive through education and reading.
"Dawn use to dress up as 'The Book Fairy' at Sandy Hook," explained Bunch, who is now using that character as a basis for a new children's book and doll that are in the final stages of production.
As to the debate about gun control and mental health, Bunch said she is discouraged that the two sides have not come together to find a solution.
"I believe there is a solution out there. We need to find it and to do it together and not separate," said Melanie Bunch.
You can hear more in Ed Reilly's report.