Newtown Father Looks Beyond Investigator's Report
Robbie Parker’s 6-year-old daughter Emilie was killed at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut last year.
He tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that he’s seen part of the investigative report released yesterday by Connecticut prosecutors, which reveals some chilling details about shooter Adam Lanza, which prompted a new round of grieving within his family.
But Parker says there is a time “to let it go,” and “to live life in a way Emilie would be proud of.”
Interview Highlights: Robbie Parker
On Adam Lanza’s mother giving her son a check to buy a new gun
“That information is new, and every bit of information that you get from any of this, you have to go through that whole kind of grieving process and you have to try and understand it the best you can. You try and make sense of it in your head and then at some point you have to let it go. Because if you sit there and you dwell on it and you try to figure out who to blame or who to point the finger at, it doesn’t change the fact that my daughter is gone or these other kids and teachers are gone.”
On the Safe and Sound school safety initiative
“What transpired after December 14th was, at first there was such a sponsorship of unity and love across the country and everybody’s heart pouring out, and then it was a little terrifying to see how quickly those feelings metastasized into something more bitter and divisive. And gun control was a really, really hot topic. And that is something that I’ve never commented on publicly. Again, it’s not something that I really wanted to get into because it just sponsored so much division amongst people. As the months went on, we realized that nobody was really talking about the school safety aspect of it and changes that could be done immediately and that could take effect. You didn’t have to wait for a politician, you didn’t have to raise money, and you could start right now to make a big difference in the safety of our children.”
On how he talks with his two other daughters, who are 4 and 5, about their sister
“That’s probably the thing that has been the biggest weight on my shoulders, as their father, and Alissa’s shoulders as their mother. As far as what you tell them, you be very honest and you be very upfront with them, with their questions that they ask. You answer them and you be honest about it, but obviously at the same time, very age appropriate. And probably the most important thing about that is to make sure that I put myself in the most healthy place possible to know how to process all of these emotions and feelings and anger, so that I am in a good spot and so that when they come to me, that they have that confidence and faith in me that I will be able to give them what they need.”
- Robbie Parker, father of Newtown shooting victim, Emilie Parker, founder of Emilie Parker Art Connection and co-founder of the Safe and Sound school safety initiative.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
The report released yesterday by Connecticut officials on the Newtown shootings gives disturbing insight into Adam Lanza's significant mental health problems before he went to the Sandy Hook Elementary School last year, December 14, and killed six adults and 20 first graders, including Emilie Parker. The day after, her father, Robbie, told reporters he wanted to express his sympathies to other victims.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)
ROBBIE PARKER: This includes the family of the shooter. I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you. And I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well.
YOUNG: So how is the Parker family doing today? Robbie joins us now. Welcome.
PARKER: Thank you, Robin. How are you?
YOUNG: I'm good. How are you?
PARKER: Pretty good.
YOUNG: Yeah? Good? Well, let's find out more. You know, it's interesting. We were scheduled to talk to you anyway because of the anniversary coming up soon. But now, this report comes out. Have you seen it?
PARKER: Yes, I have seen parts of it. And it's something that, you know, my wife and I, we try and internalize that information and process it the best we can so that we can move on from it. And so, but as far as commenting on it publicly, it's something we don't feel comfortable doing.
YOUNG: No. Certainly understandable. Some families aren't even looking at it. But we heard you just say from a year ago, you expressed such forgiveness. We also know that last year, you met with Adam Lanza's father and said he shouldn't be held responsible. Do you feel the same way about his mother, given this information that there was just so much disturbing behavior, and she had given him a check to buy another gun?
PARKER: Yeah. That information is new. And every bit of information that you get from any of this, you have to go through that whole kind of grieving process, and you have to try and understand it the best you can. You try and make sense of it in your head. And then, at some point, you have to let it go. Because if you sit there and you dwell on it and you try and figure out who to blame or who to point the finger at, it doesn't change the fact that my daughter is gone or these other kids and teachers are gone.
And so you need to have as much information - for me personally - to process all those feelings. And then once you've gone through that routine, then it's time to let it go and do your best to make sure that you live your life in a way that, hopefully, Emilie will be proud of and that, one day, I'll be proud of too.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, and, obviously, we're hearing you're going to process that privately.
YOUNG: Well, let's talk about Emilie. And two ways you've chosen to remember her, through the arts and by promoting safe schools. Safe schools. You and your wife, Alissa, helped found the Safe and Sound, securing our schools initiative. Tell us more about that because some people talked about arming teachers and principals after Newtown. What do you mean by Safe and Sound?
PARKER: Yes. So what transpired after December 14 was, you know, at first, there was such a sponsorship of unity and love across the country, and everybody's heart pouring out. And then it was a little terrifying to see how quickly those feelings metastasized into something more bitter and divisive. And gun control was a really, really hot topic, and that's something that I've never commented on publicly. Again, it's not something that I really wanted to get into, because it just sponsored so much division amongst people.
And as the months went on, we realized that nobody was really talking about the school safety aspect of it and changes that could be done immediately that could take effect. You didn't have to wait for a politician. You didn't have to raise money. You could start right now to make a big difference in the safety of our children.
YOUNG: I'd love to hear a couple of those. I mean, one would assume it would be, you know, locked entrances, although again, at Newtown, glass that could be shot through, you know, became the problem. So is that one of the thoughts? Maybe not glass windows at the entranceway but locked doors?
PARKER: Yeah. Definitely, as many physical barriers as you can create. For instance, in different schools that I've visited and even different schools that Emilie attended - one school in New Mexico that she attended, every hallway had doors that would close and remained locked. And so when you entered into the school and you checked in at the office and they gave you a badge, somebody would walk with you down the hallway to make sure that those doors could be opened for you to get to wherever you needed to go.
We got this email from a lady. She was in Arizona. She says she needed to go to the school to pick up a copy of her son's test scores, and she walked in. Nobody stopped her. She was able to walk right up to the office. So she went to her principal and started to ask some of these questions. And so the message is that it's really simple to do very powerful things to keep your kid safe.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, you've done so many other things. You founded the Emilie Parker Art Connection because art was such a beautiful way that she expressed herself, investing in local art?
PARKER: Exactly. So, Emilie could draw pictures and portraits of people in her family before she even had a full set of teeth. It was something that she just - it seemed like she was always able to do. And you can find multiple different soccer, basketball, baseball leagues, but trying to find a place to sign your child up for an art program that does a legitimate job of teaching those skills is pretty difficult. And now that she's gone, that's our gift for her, is to try and pay that forward by giving other children that have those same desires the same opportunities, because it's such a beautiful way to get to know somebody, is through their art.
YOUNG: Well, and we also spoke recently with firefighter Bill Lavin, who's building playgrounds in memory of the Newtown kids like yours. It's called The Sandy Ground project. You recently helped build one in Emilie's memory in New London, Connecticut. And we know your two other young daughters were made foreman for the day on that project. Just - how do you talk to them? How do you move ahead with your children? What do you tell them?
PARKER: Yeah. That's probably the thing that's been this biggest weight on my shoulders as their father, and also the shoulders of their mother. And you be very honest and very upfront with them with their questions that they ask. You answer them, and you be honest about it, but obviously, at the same time very age appropriate.
YOUNG: They're 4 and 5.
PARKER: Yeah. And probably the most important thing with that is to make sure that I put myself in the most healthy place possible to know how to process all of these emotions and feelings and anger and - so that I'm in a good spot, so that when they come to me, that they have that confidence and faith in me that I'm going to be able to give them what they need.
YOUNG: What are you going to do on the 14th?
PARKER: All I'll say is that we are going to be as a family, together, by ourselves, away from Newtown.
PARKER: Yeah. We feel like as many people have gotten to know Emilie and as many people have been touched by Emilie and her story, we still feel like we're the best ones that know how to remember her and appreciate what she's given us. And so we just want to make sure that we do that alone, as a family.
YOUNG: Yeah. All right. That's Robbie Parker, father of Emilie Parker, one of 20 first-graders killed in the Newtown school shooting last December. Robbie, all our best to you and your family.
PARKER: Thanks so much, Robin.
YOUNG: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.