Grieving families and survivors try to cope with their loss on second anniversary of school tragedy.

In the Connecticut village of Sandy Hook, a New England community of picture-postcard beauty, preparations are in full swing for Christmas.

But in the household of Nicole and Ian Hockley, the signs of the festive season are limited to the bedroom of their 10-year-old son Jake.

"It's just too soon for us to be celebrating," said Nicole Hockley. "Maybe next year we'll be ready, maybe that will be another step for us. Jake wanted a tree so we've let him decorate his room, but Ian and I are not at that stage yet."

Photos: Shooting tragedy: The victims

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Today is the second anniversary of 6-year-old Dylan's death - one of 20 children and six teaching staff murdered by deranged gunman Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook primary school in Newtown.

His parents described how they have devoted their lives to causes inspired by their son since his death. Nicole Hockley, who is American, is campaigning to change her homeland's gun culture. Her husband, from Cambridgeshire, Britain, works full-time for the foundation set up in Dylan's honour to help children with autism, the condition with which his son struggled.

"We do want something positive and formative to come out of this tragedy," said Nicole Hockley. "But some days it all seems so hollow, no matter how many other children we are trying to help and protect, it still doesn't bring Dylan back."

After two years, the tears well less often as they talk, but the looks of anguish remain.

"At first, the pain was so great that it felt like we could not get through it," said Nicole Hockley. "It felt all-consuming, like you could never recover.

Photos: The Sandy Hook Files

The Hockleys did not only have to handle their own grief, but also Jake's torment. He lost the brother on whom he doted and suffered the terror of the lockdown when Lanza stalked the corridors.

"He's had a tough time, but he's been through a lot of therapy, his anxieties are lessening and he's learning to be a kid and have fun again," said Nicole Hockley.

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Jake was initially so devastated that he could not even bear to hear his brother's name. It is a sign of progress that he has allowed his parents to put up pictures of him with Dylan in his bedroom.

Nicole Hockley's mission involves tackling the country's lethal love affair with guns. There have been nearly 100 shootings at schools and colleges since Sandy Hook, yet any prospect of legislation at federal level has been blocked by the powerful gun lobby.

Sandy Hook Promise, the grassroots alliance she helped form and lead, is looking to change America's gun culture from the ground up. That includes legislation in state governments - Washington state recently passed background checks for which she campaigned, and similar laws may be approved in Nevada and Ohio.

Photos: Shooting tragedy: A community mourns

Their greatest energy, however, is focused on changing attitudes and behaviour in local communities. "Most Americans are simply not engaged because they think nothing will ever change," Nicole Hockley said.

Repeated warning signs about Adam Lanza were either missed or ignored.

Changes in Newtown

Memorial planning:

A town panel has gathered input from more than 350 people including survivors, first responders and others touched by the tragedy on the search for a permanent memorial to honour the victims. So far, 18 of the 26 victims' families are involved.

Counselling services: The town is still seeing high demand for counselling services - made available through millions in grants and donations - for those dealing with the effects of the tragedy. Agencies have been working to set up a support system for the next 12 to 15 years.

Town acquires Lanza home: This month Newtown took possession of the house where Adam Lanza lived with his mother, Nancy. The bank that transferred ownership, at no cost to the town, first removed and burned all of the personal effects remaining inside. The town now must decide what to do with the building.

Investigations: A report released last month by Connecticut's Office of the Child Advocate found that Lanza's parents, education team and others missed signs of how deeply troubled he was and opportunities to steer him towards more appropriate treatment.

Possible lawsuits: Parents of more than half the children killed have filed papers that lay the groundwork for possible wrongful death lawsuits, but the documents do not indicate who would be sued.

No public commemorations: As was the case on the first anniversary of the shooting, Newtown was not holding any public commemoration ceremonies today.

For more information visit
www2.sandyhookpromise.org
www.dylanswingsofchange.com
- additional reporting AP