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December 14, 2018

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.

Joey and Emilie, we love you forever.


Alissa Parker is mother of Emilie Parker, killed in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School on December 14, 2012.  Alissa co-founded Safe and Sound Schools with Michele Gay, mother of Josephine Gay. Alissa is author of An Unseen Angel and a nationally sought after speaker on school safety, hope and healing.

The morning of December 14th, 2012, my world was shattered, forever changed. An armed attacker broke into my daughter’s school. He took my daughter’s life and the lives of many other children and educators that day.

Like so many others in our little community, I was instantly devastated. The actions of one man had changed my life forever. I had no idea how to move forward or make sense of anything anymore. Yet, two days later, I would speak for the first time to a person who would again change my life forever, Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.

Our daughters, sweet friends in this life, lovers of all things girly and fancy, had left this world for the next–together. Michele understood my pain and sorrow–and my desire to make meaning of it, to use this pain for a purpose. Together we made a choice. We chose to be inspired by our daughters. We would let them lead the way.

We focused on the world they shared together, the place where they made friends, shared laughter and learned together –school. This place was so special to our children and our families. It was the heart of our community. In honor
of our girls, we decided to help others protect this special place in their own communities. We made it our mission to ensure that every school is the safe, warm, welcoming place that every child deserves.

Together we created Safe and Sound Schools. With the help of an ever-growing, nationwide community of dedicated parents, educators, law enforcement, community members, and safety, emergency & mental health professionals, we have been able to create something to make our daughters proud.  Something that over the last four years has helped the communities close to us and all over the country. Together we have created a change that is working, inspiring others to work hard and work together for the safety of schools. We are honored to share the inspiration and spirit of our daughters to help other communities, and honored again and again to see this inspiration bring positive change to so many school communities.

On this fourth anniversary of our tragic loss, we choose again–to remember our daughters and their friends & beloved educators for the positive forces they were and continue to be. We marvel at the inspiring work of so many, work that makes our children and our schools safer.

There is much work to do, but we will never stop or give up.  We invite you to join us in remembering our daughters and carrying on their legacy. A legacy of helping others, connecting with people, working hard, and doing better–together.  

We thank you for your support of our families and our mission for Safe and Sound Schools.

#CelebrateEmilie #CelebrateJoey 

– Alissa Parker