VOICE FOR CHANGE
On December 14, 2012, Po Murray believed she was living in one of America’s safest neighborhoods. The illusion would shatter that morning when a twenty-year-old neighbor named Adam Lanza murdered his mother in their home then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary armed with an assault rifle, a handgun, and multiple rounds of ammunition.
Murray and her husband, Tom Murray ’89, had lived in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, for thirteen years, and their four children had all attended Sandy Hook Elementary. Their youngest, Tommy, graduated from Sandy Hook a year and a half prior to the shooting and was a sixth grader at the intermediate school when the shooting occurred. The Murray family lost beloved teachers they had known for years and children from their neighborhood, as shock and grief rippled through the entire community. Though she considered herself politically aware at the time, Po Murray admits she had no sense of the weakness of gun laws. “At that moment in time we decided we needed to take action to create cultural and legislative changes to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in our country,” she says.
Initially, Murray joined with neighbors and co-founded Sandy Hook Promise to help heal the community and advocate for gun safety. A few months later, she took the lead again, co-founding Newtown Action Alliance, a national all-volunteer grassroots organization focused on advancing common sense gun laws in the state and nationally.
Rob Cox ’89, former Newtown resident and also a founding member of Sandy Hook Promise, calls Murray “a rock star in the gun violence prevention movement. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t see a photo somewhere of Po meeting with legislators or working with victims on ending this national scourge.”
KOREA TO BARRE
The Kim family—Po’s mother and her five children—emigrated from South Korea to Plainfield, Vermont, in the mid-1970s, when Po was nine years old. She laughs softly remembering the mutual culture shock in the small town of approximately 1,300 residents. A year later, the family moved a few miles west to Barre, where Po would meet her future husband, Tom, for the first time in sixth grade, when they faced-off in a math competition. They began dating during junior year at Spaulding High School.
At UVM, Tom studied accounting while Po was a physical therapy major. Looking back on her years at the university, she reflects that participating in the student-led takeover of the executive wing of Waterman Building, a protest to push for greater diversity on campus, was a pivotal experience. “I became increasingly aware that we could use our voices to create change,” she says.
In her advocacy work today, Murray finds hope in Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president for 2020. She believes former Vice President Biden has introduced the strongest comprehensive common sense platform to end gun violence in America. That includes banning assault weapons, or “weapons of war,” in the tell-it-like-it-is terminology of Newtown Action Alliance. She also finds hope in the “unapologetic voices” of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as they rose up to demand action. She credits them with helping push red states, and states like Vermont with a deep gun culture, and some Republican lawmakers to shift course in favor of common-sense gun laws.
“As this generation of students becomes voters, there will be a significant change in the future,” Murray says.