At a time when mass shootings have become all too familiar, few have stunned the nation like the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook, which left six teachers and 20 young students dead.
On Friday, Sandy Hook Promise (SHP), a nonprofit led by family members of the survivors, released a PSA that cleverly shows how easy it is to miss the warning signs that someone could be planning such a shooting.
"As we go through our daily lives, our attention is on all the different things we as individuals have going on," said Peter Alsante, creative director at BBDO New York, which created the ad. "So it’s only natural that we disregard the stuff that seems like it doesn’t affect us."
In the 2:28 film, Evan, a high school student anxiously counting down to summer break, etches "I am bored," into a table. The next day, he finds that someone has responded to him, and he begins a conversation. Over the following days, Evan scans the halls and a social network in search of his mysterious counterpart. The two eventually connect—just as a shooter enters the room.
It turns out the student has been present throughout the film, plainly visible in the background of nearly every scene, but unnoticed thanks to masterful editing and misdirection.
"By pulling in the viewer and holding their engagement with the story of Evan," said Alsante, "we are able to show them how easy it is to miss some pretty surprising things if you don’t know what you’re looking for."
The PSA promotes SHP’s "Know the Signs" programs, free courses that have trained 1.5 million students, teachers and parents on how to identify if someone needs help. A report by forensic psychologists found that 80 percent of shooters and 70 percent of people who have committed suicides told someone of their plans. It was true in the case of the Sandy Hook massacre. Before 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on his rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, after taking the life of his mother, he exhibited several warning signs, according to a report from The Office of the Child Advocate, which investigates all child deaths in Connecticut.
If someone would have intervened, said Nicole Hockley, co-founder and managing director of SHP, who lost her six-year-old son Dylan at Sandy Hook, the tragedy might have been prevented.
"It is important for us to show youth and adults that they are not helpless in protecting their community from gun violence—these acts are preventable when you know the signs," she said, "Everyone has the power to intervene and get help. These actions can save lives."
"Evan" will run on YouTube and SHP’s web site, and will be promoted via social influencers. It is the second PSA from the nonprofit. The first, called "Monsters Under the Bed," debuted in December 2014. In it, children are asked to draw their fears. They draw monsters. Parents are then asked how they can protect their kids against these monsters, and they rattle off a list of protections. Then these same parents are asked how they would protect their children from gun violence—a much harder question to answer.