Newark-based ShotSpotter is one of several Bay Area influences in the push to curb gun violence. Several investors are also making an attempt to help develop creative ways to help. Cheryl Hurd reports.
Investors Rallying to Prevent Another 'Sandy Hook'
Parents of three Sandy Hook Elementary school victims are hopeful that a partnership with Silicon Valley companies funded by investments from 30 of the biggest angel investors and venture capitalists will create new technology that will help prevent another Sandy Hook. Stephanie Chuang reports.
It’s a pain they’re told they’ll just have to learn to live with: Losing their young children to a mentally unstable gunman. The parents of Sandy Hook Elementary victims admitted the pain seems to grow with each passing day.
Even harder for Nicole Hockley, who lost her 6-year-old son, Dylan. Friday would have been his 7th birthday.
The Hockleys lived across the street from the gunman, a man Hockley said she only saw one time.
“It’s been emotional," she said through tears on Thursday. "No one should live through this anyway, but to know it was someone that was within a few hundred feet of you on a daily basis makes it all the more hard to comprehend."
But on the three-month anniversary of the massacre, she and other parents of young victims joined investors at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco and said they are hopeful Silicon Valley will help prevent another Sandy Hook from ever happening again.
“Sandy Hook Promise,” a non-profit founded by Newtown community members, has teamed with Bay Area investors who are giving seed money to anyone who can innovate technology that would reduce gun violence, boost school safety and provide a better tool for mental-health evaluations.
“How can we harness the innovation, ideas, and technology to address the causes of gun violence so we can make our families and communities safer?” asked Lee Shull, co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise.
For smartgun technology, the idea is to put not only existing ideas into reality, things like passcodes and mechanisms to allow only the registered owner to fire a gun, but to get new concepts flowing, from GPS to software systems installed on firearms.
"The sad fact of the matter is the Sandy Hook incident got all of our attention as a national community unfortunately these incidents are taking place every five minutes every day, " said James Beldock, senior vice president of products and marketing at ShotSpotter. The Newark-based company uses technology to help police pinpoint where gunfire happens, so police can respond faster to crimes. "It's gratifying to know that after all the hard work, there is a national conversation going on about gun violence."
Jennifer Hensel lost her only child, Avielle Rose, in the Sandy Hook tragedy. She and her husband said mental health should be re-branded “brain health,” and needs the most attention.
“Let’s create technology that allows us to visualize and measure brain functions in an affordable, accurate, and accessible manner,” Hensel said. “We know there are real physical manifestations within the brain that can be imaged, measured quantified, and understood. We can work with that, and then we can fix it.”
Ron Conway was one of the initial investors of Google, Twitter and Facebook. He said he was hosting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, along with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and former mayor Wille Brown, for a holiday party on the same day as Sandy Hook. He said it was then he knew Silicon Valley had to step up.
“Let’s face it, if the tech community can create awesome companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, we can certainly turn our attention to innovating around safety,” he said.
Conway added this is the first time anyone has launched this kind of private funding into the smartgun technology sector.
“I’m hoping a year from now, that the tech community has invested 15-million dollars in brand new startups," he said.
One man from Georgia stood up and said he has prototypes in place to distribute smartguns with fingerprint readers and triple-locking mechanisms as etarly as in one year. But, he needs capitol, and hopes this initiative will take his technology to the market.
Conway believes that can happen.
“This is an announcement that reducing gun violence is not an orphan investment sector," he said. "It is a welcomed investment sector.”
Newtown families weren’t the only ones in pain. Local families who lost their young ones said they are just as excited about what can come out of the collaboration with Silicon Valley and its money. Leslie Merritt Blakely said she lost her son, Montreal, a Concord High School football star with a 3.8 grade point average, when he was shot and killed in San Francisco -- the day after the Newtown massacre.
“It is getting harder. The pain in my heart is worse than it was before,” she said, alongside other parents. “I have to be a spokesman for my son.”
Federal funding for safegun and smartgun technology stopped around the late 1990s. Conway said his group is “working closely” with the White House Office of Innovation and the Department of Justice.
Sandy Hook Promise is offering an incentive prize to anyone who can create technology to prevent another tragedy like Newtown’s from happening again. The amount is still undetermined. Anyone interested is encouraged to go to www.sandyhookpromise.org to sign up for details.
NBC Bay Area's Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.