Tag Archive for: Sandy Hook
First things first, we’d like to congratulate our longtime friend and Safe and Sound speaker, Paul Timm, on the launch of The Changing Face of School Security, an Allegion Podcast. In this podcast, Paul hosts leaders and change makers in the K-12 industry and highlights strategies and tools that can help schools navigate and address the ever changing landscape of school safety and security.
Co-Founder and Executive Director Michele Gay recently joined Paul on his podcast to kick off the first episode and discuss:
- the Safe and Sound Schools mission,
- the Especially Safe program,
- the importance of creating appropriate plans for school safety, and
- the changing landscape of school security.
Below is the episode transcript from Allegion, but we strongly encourage everyone to tune in here or through your favorite podcast listening platform. Look out for other amazing guests this season!
Episode 1 Transcript: From Tragedy to Advocacy: Redefining School Security After Sandy Hook
Paul Timm (00:10):
Hi, my name is Paul Timm, director of Education Safety with Allegion. It’s my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the Changing Face of School Security. In this episode, we welcome Michele Gay, the founder and executive director of Safe and Sound Schools. We’ll talk about the Sandy Hook School tragedy, the new especially safe program, and upcoming school safety events. Michele, welcome. I want to give you an opportunity to say hello because many of the listeners might not know about your daughter Josephine and the Sandy Hook tragedy. So if you could give us a hello and a little bit of background, that would be great. Awesome.
Michele Gay (00:53):
I’m so glad to be here with you. By the way, I’m gonna make you sit on my podcast, too. So fair’s fair, <laugh>. It works both ways. We’ve been colleagues and friends for some time now. But I met you, Paul shortly after I started this mission of Safe and Sound Schools, and you’ve been a great supporter of ours, a great speaker and trainer and a great partner in this work. So our work all began after the tragedy that we suffered at Sandy Hook School on December 14th, 2012. And I think, you know, lots of people when we mentioned that they kind of remember exactly where they were at that moment in time, I’m sure you do too. And that was very much a moment in time, you know, for us, for our family, our lives certainly changed forever.
We lost our little girl, Josephine, the youngest of three of our beautiful girls, but in so many ways, I think in large part, just because of who we are as a family, and our faith she’s very much with us and a part of our lives, and certainly a part of this mission that is Safe and Sound Schools. And our focus, really our legacy, for her is supporting school communities and crisis prevention, response and recovery. Really just trying to do better by our kids, do better by our communities, learn from the lessons that we experienced so, so tragically. But also to learn from and share the successes that we experienced, that we certainly want other communities to know about. So it’s just been a tremendous journey. It’s been a very healing process for me, for my family, and really just interacting with so many people like yourself, Paul, good folks at Allegion that are just dedicated to doing the right thing. You know, getting the best resources and solutions and the best education and training to the folks that are in our schools every day, our teachers, our staff, our students. So it’s great to be here and to be able to dig into all this with you today.
Paul Timm (03:00):
Well, thank you very much. And I can’t help in my mind’s eye but see, especially that one photo of Joey and I do think of her quite often, and I, really all of us are wrecked from those 20 children who lost their lives and the six adults as well. But the mission of Safe and Sound Schools is as comprehensive as I know any mission to be. So if you could, give us a little rundown on that. And then once you do that, I’d like to head into one of the sort of newer areas of Safe and Sound Schools.
Michele Gay (03:36):
So, you know, I’m a teacher, I’m always gonna identify that way. I was an elementary school teacher, so there’s a ton of our work at Safe and Sound that’s admittedly very influenced by that educator perspective, and as we’ll talk about later, the mom of a child with some pretty profound special needs Josephine. So all of that has colored, I think, in a special way, the work that that we do. But our mission is, as you said, comprehensive. I think when I first kind of stepped into this space and this mission, I, like many people, was looking for the thing, the quick fix, the law, the magic pill, the what’s the thing that is going to just erase these horrific tragedies from from our lives. You know, I remember sitting in the parking lot the day of the tragedy, just absolutely stunned that this was happening, you know, all these years after Columbine.
I guess my assumption had been, well, surely we have learned better, you know, we we’re better prepared, we’re better educated, law enforcement’s better trained. We’re never gonna experience that again. But that was sadly not the case. And, and I think we now know, you know, we all now nationally know that very, very well. So I guess stepping back and, and then consciously stepping away from that kind of knee jerk reaction to find a quick fix, it took a lot of discipline to do that. I’ve definitely called upon the educator in me to do that. But in doing so, we created a comprehensive framework for school safety planning and development. And that really, we call it the big six, kind of internally, just like our shorthand, it’s comprised of six key pillars or domains as we educators like to refer to them, really six key areas, so mental and behavioral health, culture, climate and community health and wellness, physical safety and security, also operations, and day-to-day management. So, emergency operations and daily operations as well as leadership, law and policy. So those six kind of make up the foundation of any comprehensive, sustainable school safety plan, approach, program, whatever it is. We really feel that you can’t have a good solid program without attending to each of those pillars and building them out with numerous programs and experts and individuals you know, all that expertise that goes into it. So it really does take a team. That’s what it comes down to.
Paul Timm (06:15):
It takes a team and it takes a lot of time because, you know, as I focus on physical security, I sometimes find some, some bleed over into other areas, and I want to talk about one of those just right now. But it’s a lot of effort to undertake a comprehensive approach. One of those items that I wanted to talk about since we’re on the changing face of school security, is, I believe Michele, the next code driven emergency supply, meaning schools will be required to have, it will be trauma kits, and whether you use Stop the Bleed or a bleeding control kit, or Israeli bandage or tourniquet, which I always feel strange saying because we heard that term when we were young and we were told to never use one unless it was a life and death matter. Now, you know, get the tourniquet as soon as you see any blood at all, because medicine has developed and come such a long way, which is great, but I believe it’s only gonna be a matter of months, maybe years, but months before schools are required to have trauma kits.
And I’m happy to tell you that as I do assessments, I’m seeing them more and more, which is really great. Quite often kept by the defibrillator cabinet or someplace like that. But I, instead of staying on that track, I wanna hop right back over, because as we think about great changes in school security, one of them, I believe is your introduction of the Especially Safe program. Can you talk a little bit about that, please?
Michele Gay (07:48):
Oh, happily. Yeah. Some of the things that we noticed kind of stepping into this, I say we, my co-founding partner, Alyssa, founded Safe and Sound with me. She lost her beautiful girl, Emily. And you know, she’s very much a part of this legacy, this mission as well. But I think we kept hearing people say as I was talking pretty openly about Josephine and the, the lessons we learned from her experiences and from the tragedy, Josephine was a child with a lot of special needs. And, you know, we kind of, as a family talked about all of our girls is very special, but Josephine as specially special with all of those challenges and gifts that she came to this world with. And so just realizing, gosh, we’ve made some strides sure, in school safety and security, but we really haven’t even touched the issue of how we plan for how we teach and train and prepare for the needs of a student or a staff member who has access and functional needs like Josephine.
What’s the plan there? Cuz it can’t just be that one-on-one that, you know, when I think back to what our plan was for Joey, it was, well, she’s got this aid and this aid will, you know, surely figure it out and adapt things on the fly. Wow, what an unfair responsibility to put on anybody’s shoulders. It took us a long time to figure out how to tackle that. It’s a very complicated issue. There’s a lot of very different special needs that people present with in a school community. So how do you possibly account for all of them? What we landed on, I feel really good about, you know, we landed on building a teams framework, you know, how I advocate for this multidisciplinary team based approach. So we kinda leaned into that and we created an acronym called Teams around the planning piece.
And so T in teams stands for transportation and mobility, E for emotional and behavioral health. The A is auxiliary communication, M is for medical needs, and S is for security and supervision. And so what all of those are really accommodations categories. They are kind of categories that we really need to think through individual by individual. What does a given person need in terms of being safe in the middle of any type of crisis? So do they need help moving to a lockdown position or do they need help evacuating? Do they need help communicating, you know, just not just speaking or, or sharing information, but receiving it and processing it, knowing what to do with it. Do we need to take special precaution for an individual who’s known to run away when things get, you know, stressful or perhaps a child whose family has some custody issues, right?
Those are the kinds of things that we want to be able to plan for on an individual basis for some of these, especially special students and teachers, like I said, staff members as well. And then beyond that, how do we teach them in a way that’s trauma informed, that’s developmentally appropriate that really at the end of the day is empowering for individuals and not scary for individuals. So there’s kind of two main parts to the program planning and preparation and then teaching and training. So tons to dig into for our emergency managers and our very safety and security minded folks, but also for the parents and the educators who can support this workand support the preparation of our Especially Special students and staff.
Paul Timm (11:22):
Well, I love it and I want to tell you why I love it. First of all because for years I saw, if you ever brought up about an emergency plan, we have to take into account those who have special needs. You always saw a nodding or glad handing, and I was one of those people, I didn’t know what it meant, but I know it should probably be there. And then you also saw, and I’m gonna admit to this as well, sometimes people who then wanted to drive a truck, right? Through everything with no real care. And I’m gonna give an example of that. We, years ago, we were working with a school that served profoundly disabled students and we said, we’re gonna bring in local law enforcement to run an active shooter drill. And the teachers rose up and were like <laugh>, no.
You know, we weren’t really listening. Well, now I hate to admit these things, but it’s true. And that particular community did not have great law enforcement support, which is highly unusual, but the county did. And so the county sent the SWAT team—now imagine a SWAT team dressed in black with helmets and all of that, coming to a school with profoundly disabled students. And the teachers pretty much rose up and said, well, first of all, you know, welcome, but you’re not coming in like that. And what we’ll do here is pretend that we’re the students, so you can see what some of the typical responses would be like, especially from students who are autistic or whatever. And they did a beautiful job in their experience of demonstrating how some students might run up and want to touch the helmet and the gun and how some students would run into the corner because they couldn’t handle another sensory type experience, especially one that is that dramatic. And we, Michelle really learned at that point that we didn’t know much. And so, as you are rolling this out, and I know it’s rolled out, but as it continues to roll out, I just wanna say thank you because we’re all learning in this particular situation.
Michele Gay (13:25):
I greatly appreciate that it’s evolving, it’s making its way across the country and into classrooms everywhere. I think it goes to something you have always talked about, and that is just making sure that you’re hearing from everybody, like you said, the teachers have insights and expertise that I think for too long has been kind of discounted or over looked maybe in the best case. And I feel like that’s something that we successfully brought into the conversation with Especially Safe.
Paul Timm (13:57):
And I know that, as you just mentioned, we are aligned in a collaborative approach, that’s for sure. And another approach, which is just really a component of the collaborative approach that we’re aligned with is the healthy and appropriate involvement of students. And so I’d love for you to talk a little bit about Safe and Sound students.
Michele Gay (14:17):
Absolutely. Kind of, you know, continuing in the same vein, another incredible resource for this work are students themselves. And I know you lean on your kids now, adults to, as you say, make you better at what you do. And that’s what our students can do too. You know, they are on the cutting edge of every change that’s coming down the pike. They know it and they have mastered it before we even realize that it is upon us as adults. So there’s that. There’s also just the fact that their eyes and ears in our schools communities and they care. You know, this is their house. The school is where they live, most of their lives. And they want to be safe. They want to feel good about coming in every day.
So let’s hear from them. And even more so let’s create a place where they can be leaders in this conversation. And I say create a place because it does have to be a special place. It’s not like we can take students and make them in charge of school safety, but we can, you know, educate them and we can raise them up. We can give them a very specific seat at the table. And we’ve seen schools and communities do incredible things with our Safe and Sound students program. Think of it like, you know, we have National Honor society, we have all kinds of kind of high flyer type organizations. Student government is another great example where a lot of our academic achievers really shine, you know, then we have sports where a lot of our, our kids who are really athletically gifted shine, but sometimes there are real leaders in and among our school communities in the form of students that don’t really have that place to be leaders.
And this is unique because we see a lot of students really shine as leaders here with their contributions to school safety. And they might not be your 4.0s and they might not be your all-star athletes or, you know, your musically gifted or your artistic superstars. But they are superstars in and of themselves and, and they bring a lot to the conversation. So it’s been really exciting and, and now the program has been evolving and, and in practice, in schools and communities for years now. So we actually have, it’s crazy how fast they grow up, but, but we have some of our sort of graduates that are now emergency managers and teachers and, you know, in the field of security themselves. So it’s been amazing to see how that has influenced their own career paths as well.
Paul Timm (16:52):
I remember a number of times where I was presenting my one of, one or more of my kids wa was in the audience, and I would be talking about something like social media risks and solutions. I would mention something. And my, I remember distinctly my daughter’s hand went up, she was in high school, and, and I, I said, yes, Amanda. And she said, well, that’s not right. What you just said, <laugh>, you, I am talking about Snap maps as part of, you know, Snapchat. And she was correcting me. And I, I did realize right then first of all, as I pushed down my urge to stifle, I went, wow what am I doing here? I I could be letting the expert present. And I, I really like that for schools to have regular briefings on safety and security matters and occasionally call upon students to lead that briefing.
Why is everybody on TikTok and what are the video challenges that are drawing us to this medium? And by the way, I’m just making it up at this point, but I do know this, and Michelle, you’re way younger than me, that’s for sure. But when you get in into adulthood and trend toward middle age, what we find in, in the attendees that I’m presenting to is that most of them aren’t on any of these social media outlets. And so they, they have no idea at all, and they’ve kind of looked at them all as bad. Whereas there are potential solutions, there are great mass notification helps, there’s much gain that can be gotten from education and students can help lead the way. And please, I’m not trying to just restrict them to the social media space. I remember my son would be with me and he would say, well, dad, that’s, that’s a place that during an assessment, he, he would say, that’s a place that you could easily get roof access.
And the facilities person would go, no. And then I would say, okay, go ahead and show ’em Dave. And just in a, in a, in a moment be up there. And I would say, now, please come down and don’t tell your mom that you, you climbed up there. But there is a level of knowledge, there is the ability to access information quicker and more efficiently than an adult. There is the awareness of things that are brewing among the students where the gaps and vulnerabilities are really, if we’re not involving students, I believe we’re cutting off our nose despite our face. We’ve got to be able to do that. So thank you again for making that a, a key component in Safe and Sound Schools, because you have all kinds of free time and aren’t busy enough have all kinds of summits. And it used to be that there was just one national summit on school security, but you now have branched off. Tell us a little bit about what you are doing and what’s upcoming.
Michele Gay (19:42):
Yeah, I think one of the things that I’m proud of for our organization, you know, is, is comfortable with growing and evolving and, and, and changing as we need to. And boy, we all had to do that with the pandemic period and sort of the aftermath that we’re, that we’re now in. But one of the things that we learned, just because we stumbled into it was our, our national summit became virtual because it had to, and we certainly reached thousands of people that we probably would never have been able to reach with that in-person model that we had, you know, started our summits, our national summit with. So we decided we would keep that, you know, forever and ever. We, we’ve got classroom teachers, we’ve got custodians, cafeteria staff, parents, you know, even in some cases, students that are able to do us because of this virtual and kind of asynchronous on demand capability that we, we have with that.
But there was still a really strong need for a very regional approach to the summits and really kind of embracing the flavor and the challenges, the cultural aspects that play into safety and security for our schools and communities as well. So we kind of, you know, shifted our, our model to where we have the national every year during school safety week in mid-October, and then we sort of have a summit season that, you know, begins in, in late July and, and takes us through mid-November, you know, hitting the southeast at this point Dallas and the Midwest as well. And, and we, you know, we continue to grow those kind of regional summits, but it’s a great way to gather folks, get all those different disciplines all together under one tent and do the good work of, of solving for safety in our schools and communities. It’s really exciting.
Paul Timm (21:33):
It is exciting. And let’s just agree that virtual education is a major silver lining to the pandemic. We tend to look back and go, oh my, we were, we, you know, we were robbed of all of those months and, and, and years. And by the way, I’m not saying the pandemic was good, but there are definitely silver linings and I really like the fact that you are you utilizing that mode of education. Well, let me turn a corner here. And I want to ask you, as you look across the landscape of school security, what are some of the most significant changes that you have seen, and let’s just say over the last few years?
Michele Gay (25:17):
Wow, over the last few years, I think a much more positive engagement of a variety of, of stakeholders, which doesn’t sound on its face like it would be all that innovative, but boy has it been a game changer, like we talked about involving students and teachers and, you know, really a variety of perspectives. we’ve got, you know, school resource officers working hand in hand with school psychologists and, you know principals working hand in hand with facilities directors, and, you know, everybody really unified, I think in a, in a very unique way our around protecting our schools, our kids, and our communities. I think technology continues to just change the landscape. I think when I, if I had a crystal ball, I think that’s gonna be one of the most exciting things in the next 10 years in terms of how we set our students and staff up for success for safety in schools.
We’re really now at the very cusp of AI stepping into everything in a big way. And of course, there are are things that we need to be very cautious with, but the potential to support, you know, some of our practices is, is undeniable. And I think if I could wish anything it would be, and I think, I think technology and, and good tools and good education that we’ve all been advocating for, for, for so long, they’re all gonna help. But I think the sort of depoliticization, if you will, of school safety is where I think will really, as you said, turn the corner. You know, I think if we can get folks to really focus on what we are trying to accomplish together and how to get there together, you know, dealing with facts, dealing with realities and, and as much as we can, even though it’s very personal and emotional to keep our kids and our schools safe, to really, you know, approach these things in a a not political way, in a, in a way that’s pure of heart, I really think that’s gonna make all the difference for us in, in the next several years.
Paul Timm (27:18):
That’s well said. Of course. And if our friend Melissa Reeves was here, I think she would agree because she’s on the mental health side of things. I’ve always been on the physical security side of things, and I remember just, I don’t know, 5, 6, 8 years ago thinking, when will there ever be a reaching across the aisle? There were so many schools who would say, oh, we’re, we don’t need any of those hardcore physical security things, even though that’s never what I touted. And then there were other schools that would say, we don’t need those soft programmatic things. They don’t really do anything, and both sides were wrong. We hope that there’s not going to be a democratic agenda or a Republican agenda. We hope that people can reach across the aisle and begin to work together knowing that if we stay in those places where we have just that agenda, we’re really not covering all of our bases. And that, of course, takes us back to your comprehensive approach, which I am all about. So thank you for, for doing that. And, you know, between the two of us and many others, we’re gonna, we’re gonna keep chipping away and get things done that Michelle, I think is most of the time that we have today. But I, I would love for you if you are interested to leave us maybe with a parting word or two of wisdom
Michele Gay (28:37):
Wow, wisdom. Hmm. I’m gonna borrow my wisdom from, from Joey. You’ve heard me talk a a little bit about about her personality and she was, you know, very persistent which was, which was such a good thing for a child with so many challenges in, in this life. But, you know, this work is hard, and as I said, kind of at the top of our conversation, we sometimes get fooled into thinking that we can jump into it and there’ll be some kind of quick fix or easy answer. And if there’s anything I learned from Joey, it was to, you know, stay the course. Think about what it is that you wanna accomplish, and just keep getting up <laugh>, keep, you know, keep staring it down, keep coming back. It’s okay if you get knocked down. It’s okay if you know you make a mistake, you change course, you correct course you do better next time you find people that support you and can work alongside you.
And I feel like that’s what we’ve done, Paul, you know, the, the past 10 years and, and you having been at this a lot longer than, than I have been so far. But I feel like where we find our teammates, if you will, you know, we really champion this, this cause and, and we really are making a difference for our kiddos. So yeah. So I would borrow from Joey and just remind everybody to keep at it. And you know, the payoff when we look back, the payoff is real. You know, we see kids growing and learning and, and we’re learning from them and we’re making our communities and our schools safer every day.
Paul Timm (30:05):
Well said. Thank you for joining us today, Michele. It’s always an honor to connect with you.
Michele Gay (30:11):
Paul Timm (30:13):
I’m so thankful for the good work of Michele Gay and Safe and Sound Schools, especially their focus on the special needs population. And our next episode will be joined by Guy Lesner with the Idaho School Safety Center. Please subscribe today and share this podcast with your colleagues for any questions. Feel free to reach out to us via our email K12podcast@allegion.com. Just be sure to include the name of the podcast episode in the subject line. You can also connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m Paul Tim PSP on Twitter at School Security, or on our Allegion, US social media channels. Thanks for listening and be safe.
Eight years ago, today, our lives were changed forever. We readied our children for school without realizing these would be our last precious minutes together.
Yet here they are with us, safe and sound.
They live on in our hearts, our actions, and our mission.
They live on in the community we’ve created in their honor, the work accomplished in their names, and our collective determination to ensure that every school and every child is safe and sound.
As we remember today, we look to tomorrow with hope-filled hearts. We are inspired by our children, strengthened in our resolve, and grateful for each of you.
We invite you to remember today and work with us to build a safer tomorrow.
Please join us.
Michele Gay and Alissa Parker are the Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools
One of my Sandy Hook neighbors coined the phrase with her daughter on what would have been our daughter Josephine’s 8th birthday. Her daughter’s little fingers etched the proclamation in the fresh snowfall sparkling on the windshield.
And so we do, year after year. Today is the day we celebrate Joey’s 15th birthday. We invite friends, neighbors, and supporters to join us in remembering the light of our little girl, still shining brightly in all that we do in her name. Acts of kindness, smiles for strangers, support of families with Autism, ensuring safe and sound schools, protecting children and youth.
Many of us share in purple celebration today, for the little girl who loved all things “pur-pur” (as she would say it). This year, when so many are in need of support and a reason to celebrate, we invite you to join us.
Whether you don your purple, light a candle, pray for peace, or share an (air) hug, you celebrate the life and legacy of a little girl who changed lives. Without words. Without fame or fortune. With outstretched arms, an open heart, and a smile that to this day warms our souls, heals our hearts, and fuels our mission.
Today we celebrate Joey. Together we continue her work in this world.
Share your celebration with us on social media by using the hashtag #CelebrateJoey.
Michele Gay, Mother of Josephine Gay, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools
Over seven years ago – shortly after Emilie’s death – I had a sleepless night that would forever change my life. That evening, Michele Gay and I had been discussing the tragedy at Sandy Hook and how we desperately wanted other school communities to learn from our experience. That one idea – after years of countless hours and hard work –became what is now Safe and Sound Schools. From the beginning Michele and I both felt like we were called to do this work and knew there would be many uncertainties about where that road would take us. Now looking back at what we have been able to accomplish, I am so incredibly proud of our work both as an organization and as individuals. This journey has not only changed me professionally – but also spiritually, helping me along my personal journey through grief and into healing.
As I stand here today a different person, a stronger person, I feel a familiar pull. That pull that once called me to school safety is now pulling me in an entirely new direction. At first, I strongly resisted that feeling. Safe and Sound Schools has become my second family and I LOVE the work we do! How could I ever step away?
But the pull continued. Over time, through a lot of reflection, and many long talks, I have been able to open my heart and my eyes to see a new journey ahead. As I move forward on this new path, I will step away from an active role within Safe and Sound Schools. Change is always hard—especially on this scale! And if I am being honest, I am both nervous and excited about this new direction. I will be spending more time with my family and continuing to work on my own personal healing.
With Michele leading the way, I am confident that our mission and our organization are in great hands. She has done an incredible job over the years as our Executive Director and will continue to do amazing work. For over eight years she has been my partner, my confidant, my friend, and above all else, my sister. Our daughters brought us together and that connection has bonded us forever. I love her and our Safe and Sound family dearly.
Safe and Sound was our gift to Emilie and Joey and I am proud of the legacy we have created to honor both of their lives. And though I will step away from my role on the team, I will never be far! You will still see me cheering from the sidelines, occasionally popping in, and watching this important work continue to change school communities across the nation.
Alissa Parker is the Co-Founder of Safe and Sound Schools, a school safety advocate, and author of An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook.
What are you doing this year for the anniversary? Where will you be? Is “anniversary” even the right word? These questions begin to rise up like bubbles with increasing frequency as we approach December 14th on the calendar, the day our children were killed alongside their classmates and teachers in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School.
We do our best to steel ourselves, think creatively, and plan mindfully; but as we draw near each year there’s just no getting around it. This date looms heavy on the horizon and waits like an immovable boulder in the middle of the road.
My dear friend JoAnn whose beautiful daughter, Charlotte was killed in the tragedy recently wrote with bare honesty about her season of grief each year. I was relieved to read that I am not the only one who finds herself – well, not herself, in the months surrounding this date. Just a month ago, I found myself completely tongue-tied at one point in a talk I must have given a thousand times. I wondered if something was wrong with my brain, if I should see a doctor. I had been feeling fuzzy, exhausted, and more forgetful lately.
An honest conversation with another mother of loss revealed the truth. I had been busy busying myself as I often do, hoping to escape what I cannot.
“It’s just a date on the calendar,” I tell myself. We miss our children, their classmates, and teachers every day. We miss the lives we had. We’ll never forget. So why the need–or the expectation– for remembrance rituals?
My family celebrates Josephine’s birthday only a few days before the “anniversary” date. However bittersweet, it’s a gift to us, to many that loved her, and many that have come to know her after her death. Old friends and family members reach out with posts and texts, and new friends & neighbors, families of loss, first responders, and supporters with kind nods and gestures too, many wearing purple. How Joey loved her purple.
Our Newtown neighbors, stalwart support for us that day and in the aftermath, still decorate the street with purple balloons every year on her birthday. Our former babysitter releases balloons as we did together in our backyard seven years ago. Last year our new neighbors lit their lampposts with purple bulbs in beautifully simple solidarity. Rituals.
As I write, I realize the answer to my own question about why we feel compelled to mark these days. My faith teaches me that my daughter is safe and happy, growing up in heaven. I find immeasurable peace in this knowledge. But here on earth, we “do something” together to support each other. We’re not made to do this alone.
While every day is a day of remembrance for us, this year our families will remember the lives of our daughters, Josephine and Emilie, with laughter and tears, shared stories, treasured memories, and our own forms of remembrance.
This year I find myself looking at December 14th as a day to remember others–those that supported us that day, and in the following weeks, months, and years. Every prayer, every note, every kindness sent to help us heal. We remember.
Last week I was decorating for the holidays late one night and caught a glimpse of purple outside. I looked out the window to see the street lined with purple lamp lights once more…and it took my breath away.
I got the message. We remember.
Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.
My heart is heavy. After learning about these recent suicides, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m sharing my story, but maybe I’m not sharing it with the people who need my help the most. If you haven’t been impacted by a shooting, it’s natural to wonder, how did this happen? Why didn’t they seek mental health resources? The answer is not so simple.
As a physically uninjured survivor from the Virginia Tech shooting, I’m often told that I’m lucky. “Lucky” totally resonates with me. I feel lucky that I walked out of Norris Hall on April 16, 2007 unharmed. But it is important to recognize that “lucky” doesn’t correspond to an easy recovery journey.
It feels very selfish to ask for mental health resources when others were killed or wounded. But the truth is, physically uninjured survivors need help. Often, we as physically uninjured survivors, are in denial that we need resources or recognition. We have trouble raising our hands and advocating for ourselves. After trauma, it is so difficult to see clearly.
The psychological impact from mass shootings is difficult to measure. It can’t be measured quantifiably, like the number of gun shots fired. The psychological impact from mass shootings is close to impossible to see. We can’t see mental health the same way we see physical wounds and injuries. Mental health is something we feel.
For many shooting survivors, the feeling of safety in public is stripped the instant the gun shots are fired. It usually takes years to rebuild. In the interim, it is replaced with terror, sadness, loneliness and self-doubt. Survivors have to figure out how to deal with these feelings while regaining a sense of safety. We have to deal with anniversaries that evoke intense emotion and bring back traumatic memories from the tragedy. The thought of “moving forward” can be overwhelming and feel impossible.
It is common for survivors to create hierarchies of pain in their minds. Individuals who lost family members at the top, followed by physically injured survivors. We put ourselves, physically uninjured survivors, at the bottom. We start to think we don’t need resources, because others are experiencing more pain than we are. We start to think we should just suck it up and move on.
But what we need is quite the opposite. We need to feel validated that something traumatic happened to us. We need therapy dogs to pet and shoulders to cry on. We need good listeners. We need each other – fellow survivors. We need our families and friends. It requires a village to get through recovery after a traumatic event. But so often, we don’t have that village. Most people will return to their daily routines and try to forget the horrific events of the past. But we as survivors, we will never forget.
By now, there are thousands of survivors of mass shootings, parents who lost loved ones, and law enforcement officers and medics who responded to these tragic events. These people may think for a long time that they weren’t impacted by the event. But while they may have escaped physical wounds, the mental wounds run deep. They may walk wounded for months, sometimes years, before realizing the impact the shooting had on them.
The most recent and public losses of survivors in Parkland and Sandy Hook remind us all that this road is long and it takes strong support and connectedness to survive the mental injuries of tragedy and loss. Our hearts and prayers are with these victims and their families today and always.
Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound speaker
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.
As we look forward to continuing our work and mission in 2018, we’d like to share a look back at our work in the last half of 2017.
We kicked off the month of July with Michele delivering a keynote and afternoon workshops in Philadelphia for the Independent School Safety and Security Summit. Then it was off to the Campus Safety East Conference where co-founder Michele Gay presented alongside Lisa Hamp, Virginia Tech survivor and Safe and Sound contributor. Following this conference, Michele headed to Massachusetts to present to the Massachusetts Association of Superintendents in Cape Cod, reconnecting with many of our Massachusetts school communities and meeting many more. On the same day, speaker Frank DeAngelis presented on leadership lessons in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The end of the month took Michele back to the the National Heritage Academies’ School Safety Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As the end of the month approached, Michele and Safe and Sound Speaker Lisa Hamp joined NASRO and attended the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. where Michele was honored to read the names of fallen school officers at the National Law Enforcement Memorial. It was a truly beautiful ceremony with many of our SRO friends from across the country in attendance. July travels concluded in California where Michele Gay, Kristina Anderson of the Koshka Foundation, and Safe and Sound board member Bob Martin spoke and networked with school safety leaders on the west coast.
In August, co-founder Alissa Parker attended the 2017 School Administrators Emergency Training Summit in where she presented and visited local leadership. Michele headed back to Massachusetts to present for the Westerly Public School staff and safety leadership.
Community visits picked back up in September with Michele presenting at the IMF Women’s Security Awareness Training in Washington, D.C. She then traveled to Illinois to speak to Illinois Fire Service Administrative Professionals. Soon after, Safe and Sound speaker Frank DeAngelis traveled west to Sierra Vista High School in California to speak to school staff about his personal story and leadership lessons learned. In the east, Alissa traveled Massachusetts to share her story of faith, hope, and healing. She then traveled to Springfield, Illinois to attend the Illinois Association of School Administrators Conference to speak on school safety. Meanwhile, Michele headed to Canada to attend the Ottawa Area Safe Schools Network Summit. September community visits concluded with a trip back to Illinois where Michele Gay presented for the Valley View School District School Safety Conference.
Although September was an exciting month due to all the community visits, perhaps one of the biggest highlights of September was the launch of the Safe and Sound Youth Council. In only a few short months, we are proud to report that this program has been delivered to more than 23 states. Our students are stepping up for the safety of their schools and communities. To learn more about the Safe and Sound Youth Council program, click here.
In October, Alissa hit the road again, traveling to Wyoming with Safe and Sound Advisor, Paul Timm, PSP for the Wyoming School Safety Summit. Sandy Hook survivor, Natalie Hammond traveled to Missouri for Safe and Sound to keynote and lead a workshop on school safety team building for the Missouri Center for Education Safety. Her presentations were very well received by all in attendance!
Later in the month, Alissa traveled to Pennsylvania to present at the Delaware County Safe Schools Summit. Her visit was so successful that we are already planning a follow up workshop in the near future. Soon after, with sponsorship from Status Solutions, Safe and Sound Schools was able to attend the 2017 National Resilience Institute Summit in Chicago where Michele presented a keynote and participated in a panel discussion with national leaders in resilience. A couple days afterwards, Michele presented for the Axis School Safety Symposium in Minnesota with Safe and Sound Advisor and Contributor, Paul Timm, PSP. Michele then headed to Plymouth to speak at Wyzata High School for a Security Symposium. Alissa completed October travels with a visit to Houston to attend the Crime Stoppers Gala, presenting alongside Bob Woodruff of the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
In November, Safe and Sound Schools participated in several webinars. Michele kicked off November with a webinar in partnership with Raptor Technologies. She discussed the ways in which school leaders can galvanize their local community to improve school safety. In mid November, Michele was joined by Safe and Sound speaker Dr. CJ Huff to present on how schools can harness the power of the community to keep schools safe. This webinar was sponsored by Safe and Sound sponsor Status Solutions and was hosted by Campus Safety Magazine.
In early November, Michele and speaker/advisor Dr. Melissa Reeves presented a full day workshop on Reunification of the School Community for the Colorado Society of School Psychologists in Vail, Colorado. Soon after, Michele traveled to New York to present for the New York State Association of School Nurses, followed by Alissa’s presentation for the ScanSource corporate conference on November 15th.
Community visits slowed in December, as 2017 marked the five year anniversary of Sandy Hook. Michele and Alissa used this as a time to draw close to their immediate and Sandy Hook families. To learn more about Sandy Hook’s legacy and how some families are choosing to honor their loved ones, read some of the news stories below:
- 5 Years Later, Newtown Victim’s Sisters Put Letters in Her Stocking for Santa to Take to Heaven, People
- Sandy Hook: Families dedicate time to charity, activism 5 years after tragedy, USA Today
- Sandy Hook’s legacy: More security in elementary schools, AP News
To catch up on blogs you may have missed during the second half of the year, visit our Blog.
Many thanks to our nationwide community of supporters and school communities for joining and supporting us in our work to bring safety to every community, every school, and every child.
As another community reels from tragedy, terror, and grief, many of us are at a loss of our own: What should we say? What do we do? How can we help?
We too are in shock. We grieve for these families and this community. We want them to know that we care. That what they are suffering is unacceptable to us.
So, many of us send thoughts and prayers–some of us quietly, in front of the news unfolding on TV, as we wake or climb into bed, in our homes or houses of worship. Others take to the airwaves, social media, and vigils to send support in the form of thoughts and prayers.
Is this wrong? Is it presumptuous? Is it “not enough?”
The truth is, it’s not for us to decide. Ours is to offer and wait.
There’s a reason our nation has taken to the time-honored tradition of offering thoughts and prayers in times of suffering and loss. We are a nation of many beliefs and different faiths, but we are all American. We care deeply.
What’s more, the offer of thoughts and prayers is a simple one, a quiet gift that requires absolutely nothing of the recipient. A gesture that says we see you. We care about you. We send our love and support from near and far, in the only way we know how.
Today some people argue that thoughts and prayers are not enough. That now is a time for action. In the weeks and months following the tragedy in my community this was the case for some. For our families, it was not.
We are all different.
Perhaps for some in the community of Aztec, New Mexico, rising up and making change at once will be the way. For others, giving back or finding faith will help. Some will choose a quiet retreat, some will focus on family, and others will return to work right away. People will choose a path of their own. Few will carry on in the same way or in the same time.
For our families “thoughts and prayers” made all the difference.
Our daughters were murdered nearly five years ago, along with 19 of their first grade classmates and 6 of their beloved teachers at Sandy Hook School. The thoughts and prayers of our friends, family, and strangers sustained us like nothing else could.
We took your love in its many forms––your cards and works of art, your poems and songs, your afghans and quilts, gifts, donations, and lovingly baked lasagnas, each making its own kind of difference. Yet it was the steady stream of thought and prayer that buoyed us through the long nights, heart-breaking decisions, and harsh realities that we had no choice but to face.
We felt your love and it made a difference.
The simple offer of thoughts and prayers meant that we needed only to receive, that we could reserve what energy we had to bear the weight of our loss, knowing that many good people stood beside us, waiting for us to determine the way forward from our deeply personal losses.
When the thought of taking another breath or moving another step was overwhelming, this simple gesture meant the world to us. We were not alone.
We cannot know with any certainty how our thoughts and prayers will be received by these families, or this community, or the next; but one thing is certain: Taking the time to think of and pray for them before taking action may better prepare us to listen and follow their lead, to respect their unique wishes, needs, and individual journeys forward.
Though we may never come to know a soul from Aztec, New Mexico, we know the power and beauty of the thoughts and prayers of others, so we openly choose to send ours. We know for some, they will make all the difference.
To the families, friends, and community of Aztec we send our thoughts and prayers.
May God bless you.
Michele Gay and Alissa Parker, Founders of Safe and Sound Schools