I still remember Emilie pacing back and forth through the endless, pink Barbie packaging that filled the aisle at Target. She couldn’t quite decide what to buy. She was picking out a gift for her sweet classmate, Josephine (Joey for short), for her seventh birthday party. Joey was autistic and apraxic, which meant she was non-verbal and limited in her ability to communicate. She was also loving, affectionate, and girly, very girly. Just like Emilie.
She was the perfect friend for Emilie, who loved having a captive audience to listen to her endless ideas and stories. Emilie and Joey had become dear friends during their time together in school. Emilie loved to tell me all the things she was learning about Joey and their every little interaction. Like when Joey would excitedly touch the puffy skirts Emilie would wear to school and the joy in her face when she would see Emilie’s Barbie backpack each morning. As Emilie continued pacing up and down the aisle, determined to find the perfect gift for Joey, she finally found it. A ballerina Barbie…tutu and all.
I will always remember the love Emilie and Joey had for not only each other, but for all their classmates, teachers, and friends. They loved their school! After their tragic deaths on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook School, Michele and I chose to honor their lives. We built a legacy unique to our girls, a legacy devoted to protecting the sacred environment all children need to learn and grow safely – and joyfully! A legacy devoted to safe and sound schools. Every speech we give, every workshop we deliver, every program we create has our girls’ fingerprints all over it.
Emilie and Joey live on in our work, inspiring thousands of parents, students, teachers, administrators, and mental health and safety professions in their efforts to make schools a safe place for all. This year, as we mark the 6th anniversary of the tragedy that took their lives, help us celebrate their light, love, joy, and hope–and their legacy of safe and sound schools.