Forgiveness and peace, however, still didn’t come easily or immediately for the Parkers. “Hating Adam Lanza felt good. But I could see now that hate and anger were limiting me from moving forward,” Alissa writes in her new book, An Unseen Angel.
“The more I read, researched, and learned everything I could about the shooter and his history, the more questions surfaced to which I would never find answers. . . . I finally came to the conclusion that I would never know. I would never fathom what was in his heart. But God could. God knew how to hold him accountable. God knew how to judge him. That burden was not for me to carry; rather, it was for me to lay down at God’s feet. . . . As I made this decision, a burden so deep and so heavy it had nearly crushed me was physically lifted from me. My heart burned with a joy so powerful it brought me to tears.”
As their sadness, anger, and hatred gradually faded, Robbie and Alissa were able to feel Emilie’s presence near. “My heart needed to heal in order to feel her again,” Alissa says. “It wasn’t until my heart had softened that those moments where I could have her be with me became available. They were small, short, beautiful, intensely euphoric moments that I wanted to hold onto with all of my might, but yet, somehow it would probably overwhelm me.”
Alissa continues, “I mostly feel Emilie around her sisters. It’s just such a sweet thing to think that she is still their big sister and loves them and is with them.” The first time Alissa felt Emilie was Easter morning. “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was playing on the stereo and Alissa was overwhelmed with thoughts of what was missing from their family celebration: Emilie’s Easter basket, her excitement over a new fancy dress, her smile, her hugs.
But as Madeline and Samantha twirled to the music, Alissa was enveloped by a sense of warmth, peace, and comfort. Alissa writes:
“I knew that Emilie was there dancing with her sisters as they had done so many times before. In that moment, I was blessed to finally feel all the happiness of those memories again, all the joy and the laughter without the pain of loss. Emilie was giving me the chance to see that our family would always be connected, through time and eternity. . . . For that moment, we were all there as a family, tied together eternally by the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. The feeling faded quickly, but even after it left, I knew I had been changed forever, lit with a new light of hope.”
Despite the darkness and pain that came from losing Emilie, the Parkers have found their relationship with their Heavenly Father growing stronger and more complete as they learn to rely on His grace and forgiveness, understanding His love with new depth. “I remember when I was at church sitting in sacrament meeting, I kept thinking that if only I could have known what would happen that day, I would never have sent Emilie to school,” Robbie recalls. “I would have protected her, made sure nothing happened to her. But then, I felt this very distinct thought from Heavenly Father, saying: ‘I knew what they would do to my Son.’ And it just hit me. Heavenly Father sent His Son to this earth, fully knowing what they would do to Him. He watched as His Son was crucified and endured so much. As a father, that struck me, bringing a deeper sense of what the Atonement means and how much our Heavenly Father loves His Son and all of us.”
“Sometimes people want to ask ‘Where is God in all of this?’” Hintze says. “It [is] very easy to see and dwell and live in the darkness. . . . [However,] if you want to be in the light, you have to look for it, you have to work for it, you have to be diligent, but it is always there, and that is where we will find God. It is a choice we have to make to seek it out. Alissa and Robbie have made that choice over and over again.”
Safe and Sound
Since Emilie’s passing, the Parkers have used their personal experience to become advocates for school safety and art therapy.
Along with Michele Gay, another mother who lost her daughter during the Sandy Hook shooting, Alissa established Safe and Sound Schools, a nonprofit that seeks to empower communities to build safer schools. In addition to providing customizable programs, podcasts, materials, and resources, Safe and Sound Schools helps create school safety councils, allowing students the chance to improve their school’s safety with innovative solutions.
In addition, the Parkers have established a nonprofit focusing on supporting local art communities and helping children who have suffered trauma, neglect, or abuse through art therapy. The organization, Art Connection, was inspired by Emilie, who was a prolific artist and used pictures to record her feelings and bring light and joy to others.
“[This experience] has changed us. It has made us better, and it has inspired us to do things that we otherwise wouldn’t have done,” Robbie says. He recalls a message one woman shared with him. “She said, ‘Isn’t it amazing how God won’t waste an opportunity?’ For anyone else who is going through whatever it is that they’re going through, if they can look at it with that same mentality, that this is an opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted. As hard and as difficult as it might be, it shouldn’t be wasted because God’s not going to waste it.”
Learn more about Alissa and Robbie's incredible story of hope and healing in An Unseen Angel.
An Unseen Angel follows Alissa Parker after she lost her daughter Emilie in the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting. Alissa started a life-changing journey to answer soul-searching questions about faith, hope, and healing. As she sought for the peace and comfort that could help mend her broken heart, she learned, step by step, how to open her heart to God's Grace and will.
One step brought her face-to-face with the shooter's father, in that a pivotal and poignant meeting, she was given an opportunity to forgive. Another step brought her into the sheltering compassion of her community as family, friends, and even strangers reached out to buoy her up with their shared faith. And several miraculous manifestations of Emilie's continued presence and influence lifted her heart and will validate the faith of every Christian.
The story of Alissa and Emilie reminds us that the bonds of love continue beyond this life and that despite tragedy and heartache, we can find strength in our family and our faith.