The tears rolled down Tizzie Nuss' cheeks and onto the ballistic shield she hopes parents will insert inside their children's backpacks.

The Hilliard mother of two children has invested almost everything her family has in making the bullet-resistant shield that she believes will save lives in the face of tragedy.

Lifting the shield by the straps attached to the back, she demonstrated how a child could pull it out of the backpack and duck behind it in case they ever found themselves trapped in a school shooting.

"As a mom, my mission is to do whatever I can to help protect our children," Nuss said. "We all wish we didn't have to talk about, or even think about, school shootings with our children. But when a child comes home from school and says, 'Mommy, we had one of those drills today and I learned how to hide behind a coat,' that isn't good enough."

Nuss, 39, is making plans to launch her company, the Spark Project, and manufacture the shields in Ohio.

The shield weighs 20 ounces and is designed to fit inside backpacks carried by students ranging from kindergartners to college students. Nuss hopes to sell the product for about $200, but the final price for consumers has not been set.

Several other companies have been selling similar products for years, but Nuss and her team believe the Spark shield will offer more protection, is easier to handle because of the straps and will be less-intimidating for children. A front pocket will allow children to insert a picture or create a front cover of their choosing, helping to eliminate the look of a military ballistic shield.

Nuss is planning to quit her full-time job working in human resources at the end of the month. She will devote herself full-time to her company with the support of her husband, Nolan, a personal trainer and former Marine who was deployed to Iraq as part of an anti-terrorism unit.

Nuss said she understands that there are some who will accuse her of trying to profit from tragedy or are opposed to children carrying the shields. But she does not want to engage in a discussion that will distract her from the mission of trying to protect kids.

She said the company's mission will also include building a network or community of schools, law enforcement and parents that can work together and determine the best ways to protect students.

"I don't have all the answers when it comes to school shootings," Nuss said.

The idea for the Spark Project started about five years ago, when she began doing research along with two former coworkers. But the workload became too much and the dream fizzled until Oct. 5, 2017, when Nuss woke up with foggy eyes and struggled to see.

Her condition worsened, prompting a trip to the hospital and leaving her with a piercing pain and a feeling that she was going blind.

In the middle of the worst night of her life, Nuss said, she told God, "I know why you put me on this earth," and she vowed if he restored her eyesight she would commit to the shield project.

A short time later, the severe eye infection cleared and Nuss kept her promise.

Steve Sauer, co-founder of Bigger Tuna, a local design and engineering company, helped develop the shield.

"This is a deep and meaningful project that could potentially save a child's life (that) you want to be a part of," Sauer said. "She is starting a conversation about school violence. It's not just about selling a product. I don't see anyone else taking this kind of approach."

Nuss was then connected to a ballistics expert who is part of the Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence at Ohio State University.

Most existing ballistic backpack companies claim their products are tested in independent labs in line with the standards set by the National Institute of Justice and the shields can stop bullets from a 9 mm handgun and the larger .44-caliber Magnum.

The Ohio State engineer conducted several more-advanced tests on the Spark shield, showing that it could withstand impact from multiple rounds from both a .44 Magnum and .357 Magnum.

No product can be considered "bulletproof," and the Ohio State engineer isn't permitted to endorse the shield. But, Nuss said, the more-exhaustive testing of her product convinced her that it fully meets the highest levels of the NIJ's standards.

She said her mission is to simply give parents a way to protect their kids.

Her own children Nevin, 12, and Kallie, 9, have been supportive of their mom's efforts.

"I shared an early prototype and felt like Nevin seemed off," Nuss recalled. "I asked if he was scared and he said, 'No.'

"I pressed harder, and he said, 'I worry that the bad guys are gonna come after you because they always come after the people trying to makes things better.' "

mwagner@dispatch.com

@MikeWagner48