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My life changed forever with one phone call. It was from my daughter Emilie’s elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. There had been a shooting. I rushed to the school in search of Emilie; my husband joined me, and we waited for hours before we were told that our daughter would not be coming home with us. She was only six years old.
I couldn’t understand how something like this could happen and how our family was supposed to carry on. Emilie was our oldest, and her sisters, Madeline and Samantha, were now without the leader of their girl pack. I sank into a deep hole of depression and guilt.
Taking action to put good into the world after suffering so much pain was one small way we began our healing process.
We tried to honor Emilie every day. Within the first few months after her death, we created the Emilie Parker Art Connection because Emilie was a prolific and heartfelt artist. We wanted to make sure other kids had the opportunity to express themselves through art the way Emilie had. Taking action to put good into the world after suffering so much pain was one small way we began our healing process.
But still, the events of that day played over and over in my head, and I felt like I had failed my daughter. I hadn’t protected her when she needed me. I thought about all the things in her school that I knew weren’t safe, things that I had pointed out to my husband while walking through the halls only months before the shooting. I never said anything to the administrators or other parents because I never imagined that someone would be capable of killing such innocent children.
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How could my hindsight be someone else’s foresight?
One night, I lay awake thinking about all the simple protective measures that could have saved my daughter and her classmates. I wondered how I could teach others to learn from our tragedy. How could my hindsight be someone else’s foresight?
That sleepless night was the beginning of the second nonprofit I helped start: Safe and Sound Schools. I co-founded it with another mother who lost her child that day; we wanted to help make school communities safe across the country. Since we launched it, Safe and Sound has helped educate and inspire thousands of schools to take action and learn from our tragedy.
I miss Emilie every day, but I try to find those quiet moments in life to feel her presence near. She has inspired me to help others and find a way to see the light once more. It isn’t easy, and I have to choose to let the goodness in. But my family has found a way to go on, and I am proud of where we are today.
Alissa Parker is the mother of three girls. She lives with her family in Washington State and has recently written An Unseen Angel, a book that chronicles her journey to answer soul-searching questions about faith, hope and healing.