In Memory of Dylan Hockley


Katie Cion

Jake Hockley, brother of Dylan Hockley to whom the playground is dedicated, breaks ground at Long Lots on Friday.

Friday morning’s groundbreaking of Long Lots’ new playground, donated by New Jersey Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association as a part of their “Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play” project, which plans to build 26 playgrounds in memory of the 26 victims that passed away at Sandy Hook, was not a time to dwell on the tragedy that befell Newtown, Conn. last December but, rather, as First Selectman Gordon Joseloff put it, a celebration: of community, of charity and of Dylan Hockley, a little boy who died at Sandy Hook, to whom the playground is dedicated.

Despite the rain, many Westport citizens crowded the playground for the ceremony, joining the New Jersey Firefighters, Westport Firefighters, Police and EMS, as well as Dylan’s parents, Ian and Nicole, his grandparents and his brother Jake, who served as foreman of the event with tools in hand.

Superintendent Elliot Landon gave the opening remarks and relayed the towns’ gratitude for the donation. In an earlier interview, Landon commented on the mixed emotions surrounding the playground.

“I’m saddened by the fact that Newtown occurred, but I’m very thankful we’ve been selected to have the playground built on our grounds,” Landon said.

This mix of emotions permeated the ceremony. The tragedy underpinning the event was evident in the solemnity of the men who stood in uniform, the incongruity of the crowd of umbrella-wielding adults on a child’s playground and the framed picture of Dylan that his dad held in his arms.

But, when Ian Hockley, who was later the subject of a heartfelt rendition of “Happy Birthday” sung by the crowd, stepped up to speak, the strength in his voice as he talked about his son, referring to the tragedy that took his life only as “12/14,” was a signal of resilience.

“Dylan loved going out [to the playground] as a family,” Ian Hockley said.

The playground at Long Lots is the fourth of the 26 playgrounds that will be built across the country.

The donation was accepted by the Board of Education in March, after which the Long Lots PTA decided to mount their own project, the Butterfly Effect, in support of the program.

“We wanted to do our own twist on it and make it something of meaning to Dylan,” Long Lots PTA Co-President Lauren Goodman said.

After reading Dylan Hockley’s eulogy, Goodman and the PTA were inspired by the concept of a “Butterfly Effect.”  As his mother explained, Dylan had autism, and, whenever he got excited, he would “flap.” When asked by his mother why he was flapping, he responded, “Because I am a beautiful butterfly.”

After his death, his parents thought about the idea of the “butterfly effect,” the notion that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world can cause a hurricane in another.

“Dylan and all the other children and teachers who lost their lives are butterflies now. If one butterfly can cause a hurricane, then 26 butterflies can change the world,” Nicole Hockley said after Dylan’s passing.

The PTA sold bracelets, bumper stickers and T-shirts in the weeks leading up to the event, all marked with a purple butterfly. At the ceremony, the PTA presented the Hockley family with $1,000 for Dylan’s memorial fund and donated $11,500 to the New Jersey Firefighters to continue their efforts.

To end the ceremony, Jake Hockley picked up a shovel and dug into the gravel of the Long Lots playground, officially beginning the construction of a new one. However, before the building began, Jake had something to say to the firefighters.

“Get to work,” he ordered, with a smile that had eluded him all morning.