Uncle of young Newtown shooting victim turning tragedy into action

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.

Alexis Haller, uncle of Noah Pozner, one of the children killed in Newtown, poses for a photograph at Lafayette Park while Noah’s sister, Danielle Vabner and brother, Michael Vabner, chat in the background.

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.

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.

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