Latter-day Saint Life

Latter-day Saint mother who lost her daughter in Sandy Hook shares experience and resources after Uvalde shooting

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December 14, 2012, is remembered by many as the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But Alissa Parker remembers it as the day she lost her daughter, Emilie. In the nine and a half years since Alissa has found solace in the kindness of others and in the goodness of a God who has allowed her to feel her daughter's presence time and time again. On this week’s episode of All In, Alissa shared her tremendous faith in God as well as her confidence that she will see her daughter again. Alissa also shared how she chose to respond in the wake of the horrific shooting that took the life of daughter.

Listen to the full episode in the player below or by clicking here. You can also read a full transcript here.

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity but may contain errors.

Morgan Jones Pearson: I want to tell listeners, when I reached out to Alissa she mentioned she hadn't done any interviews recently in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. But that she was willing to do this interview because she was able to share her faith. And first of all, I don't think there's anything better that could be shared right now than faith. Because I think that's pretty much all we have to hope for and all the beautiful parts of this existence center around the hope that can come into our lives as a result of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In a book you wrote, Alissa, you said this: “After the shooting, I was shocked, the nation was shocked, to see the power and impact one man’s evil act had on so many innocent people. It was hard not to feel that the power of evil was winning in the world. But at the same time, God’s love had touched thousands and thousands of people’s hearts and prompted them to take a stand against evil to send some token of love and kindness. I was given the unique opportunity to be a witness to many of these defiantly kind acts, people from all different walks of life, all different faiths and backgrounds, wrote to us and to our suffering families with unified love and power. It was beautiful and it helped me see the power of goodness again.”

I love the way you said “defiantly kind acts” as if it was defiant to what evil was trying to do in the world by filling that space with kindness. I think at this time, we have a choice of what we will focus on. Because I feel like the adversary is trying more than ever to assert that power. Why was it helpful for you to focus on the goodness that still existed in the wake of this tragedy?

Alissa Parker: For me, personally, I have always been frustrated with finger pointing. And when tragic events like this happen, I think it’s healthy to be able to assess something and see what we feel isn’t working. But I don't feel like it’s productive to blame. And to point fingers and to take what we fear and project it as fault. I think that’s human nature. I think that’s how we oftentimes cope with things to try and make us feel safer to make us feel better to, to deal with those overwhelming emotions.

But for me, I have found that it’s more productive to focus on what unifies us, and what we can do to contribute to make the situation, the world itself, a better place. And I chose to not participate in those arguments per se, but instead, put my actions forward and putting those efforts into school safety into what we can do, not who’s at fault here. And that was really, for me, a healing way that I felt like I could honor how our Heavenly Father operates as well by carrying that spirit with me. By having a proactive, positive, action-oriented response, I felt like I would be able to honor my faith, honor my background and be true to who I was rather than participating in the blame game.

Morgan Jones Pearson: For sure. You mentioned that you helped found a non-profit called Safe and Sound Schools. And that was something that I felt like you were able to kind of pour yourself into and in return find healing. And you're no longer doing this, from what I understand, but during that time that you were going around and teaching, what do you feel like were the most important things you all taught through Safe and Sound Schools, what would be the most important things for our listeners to hear?

Alissa Parker: I’m really proud of the organization; they’re still putting out incredibly good information. I have since, I call it retired from the organization. I don’t like to say quit or left, because I’m still very close to them and follow what they do. And we keep updated. But for me, it was time to start a new chapter. But I felt at the time that was what—I couldn’t stop thinking about it, I felt called to action because it kept me up at night. And I just felt compelled and this compulsive feeling to want to share what we have learned because there were a lot of lessons that were learned from our experience that I wanted to share with other communities. And then it kind of snowballed from there where we just started to build this amazing community of the folks that were doing it right in the school safety world. And as a result of that we have done national summits, [we’ve] spoken all over the country, internationally, [we’ve] gone and shared our story and our experience in this tragic loss.

There were a lot of really important things that people can learn and do to take active steps to making sure things like this don’t happen in their school. And so it’s really a collective approach. It’s not a one and done, let’s do this one thing to fix it. But it’s really understanding the whole process involved in school safety. And for those who are listening, that want to know how to get started, if you go to their website, safe and sound schools there’s a whole lot of really good information for everyone, for students, or parents, teachers, administrators, there’s something there for everyone. And there are many levels of ways to get involved and to ensure that your schools are safer. And whatever commitment level you have to offer, there’s something there for you. And so that was a really healing process for me just to be able to use our story to really create a new standard amongst schools.

As soon as this pandemic hit and kids were isolated, I immediately just felt so sad, not just for the kids that were going through that but I knew that there were going to be long-term repercussions on the mental health of a lot of these kids, because one of the things that we’ve learned in school safety is how much isolation and being left alone or in a situation where you might be in a home that’s just not healthy, how much that can affect a child in a negative way. I feared that after we came out of this isolation that there would be a lot of depression, suicide, school shootings as a result, like an increase in that. And that, unfortunately, is what we’re seeing right now. And I think that’s a reflection of lot of a lot of the waves as a result of this and how important it is to get mental health professionals involved with our children and making sure that they are healthy. Because this stuff is really heavy and really hard for our kids. And I think it’s really important that we’re there for them.

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