HARTFORD, Conn. -- The moment Alissa Parker learned of a shooting at her daughter's school, she suddenly regretted not pointing out what she had seen as security gaps at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie was among 20 first-graders killed in the Dec. 14 massacre, had thought security could have been tighter, although she never could have guessed it would be tested by a gunman with a military-style, semi-automatic rifle.
"I have to admit, the minute that I received the phone call that said there was a shooting and it was at Sandy Hook, my mind went back to what I had thought and what I had known were the imperfections of the security at Sandy Hook, and I immediately knew my child was at risk," she said Thursday. "I immediately regretted not saying anything."
As parents who lost children turned to each other for support in the weeks following the tragedy, school security emerged as a theme in emotionally wrought conversations around Newtown's kitchen tables. Now, six Sandy Hook families including the Parkers are launching the Safe and Sound at Sandy Hook Initiative, a program to help communities improve their school security plans.
The package of laws that Connecticut passed last month in response to the shooting includes several school safety measures, requiring districts to take steps aimed at improving security and creating a new council to establish school safety infrastructure standards. Some lawmakers in the U.S. Senate also have been pushing legislation in Congress that would boost school safety aid.
But Parker and Michele Gay, whose 7-year-old daughter Josephine was killed at Sandy Hook, said school safety has been overshadowed nationally by other issues, such as gun control. Their initiative encourages communities to review and update their school security plans and it is raising money to provide grants for school districts.
Sandy Hook followed well-regarded security protocols including locking the doors during school hours and requiring that visitors be buzzed in through a main entrance, and it had conducted a lockdown drill just a week before the shooting, Gay said. But Sandy Hook wasn't prepared for Adam Lanza, who shot out a glass window to get inside and then killed 26 people, including six educators, before committing suicide as police arrived.
Even though Sandy Hook had measures in place, Parker said security seemed lax in some areas compared to other schools. Gay said the checks at that main entrance amounted to a single line of defense.
"That was it, that was our one line of defense, and that's how it is in most schools," Gay said. "Without the ability to take cover or lock your classroom door or lock off a hallway once someone obtains access to the school building, that's it. We didn't have a secondary line."
Parker and Gay, along with their husbands, are leading the initiative, which also involves the families of three other children who were killed at Sandy Hook and another child who survived.
"My ultimate goal," Parker said, "is to let people learn from our tragedy. Let our hindsight be your foresight."
Safe and Sound: http://safeandsoundschools.org/
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Benjamin Wheeler, 6
To honor their <a href="http://www.phillyburbs.com/obituaries/courier_times/benjamin-andrew-wheeler/article_f19a4556-f13f-517f-ad96-ea6d68c2eca7.html">“irrepressibly bright and spirited boy,”</a> who loved to play soccer and the piano, Benjamin Wheeler's parents have set up the Benjamin Wheeler Fund in his memory. Donations can be made <a href="http://www.giveforward.com/benwheelerfund">online</a> and checks can be mailed to the Benjamin Wheeler Fund, c/o Trinity Episcopal Church, 36 Main Street, Newtown, Conn., 06470.
Emilie Parker, 6
To help grieve for the smiley 6-year-old girl who would have been one of the first to console the shooting victims, according to her dad, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/22/newtown-victim-funerals-saturday_n_2351419.html">Emilie Parker’s parents</a> have set up a memorial fund in her memory. Find out how you can get involved<a href="http://emilieparkerfund.com/"> here.</a>
Daniel Barden, 7
Honored at his funeral by the very firefighters whose shoes he hoped to one day fill, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/20/daniel-barden-funeral-san_n_2332605.html">Daniel Barden</a> already knew his dream job at age 7 and how important it was to extend support to kids with special needs. As his parents continue to grieve, they’re looking to supporters to donate to the <a href="http://www.bardenfund.com/">Barden Family Fund</a>, which will help cover any expenses that come as a result of this tragedy. Find out how you can get involved<a href="http://www.bardenfund.com/"> here. </a>
Victoria Soto, 27
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/sandy-hook-shooting-heroes_n_2311072.html">A heroic teacher </a>who reportedly hid some students during the shooting and died trying to shield them from bullets, Victoria Soto is being honored through two memorial funds. Donations to the <a href="http://www.vickisotomemorial.com/Viki_Soto/The_Official_Victoria_Leigh_Soto_Fund.html">Vicki Soto Memorial Fund</a> can be mailed to P.O. Box 411, 411 Barnum Avenue Stratford, CT 06614. Donations can also be made to the <a href="http://www.easternct.edu/advancement/victoria_soto.html">Victoria Leigh Soto Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund</a> created by Eastern Connecticut State University to support students studying to become teachers who have unmet financial needs. Learn more <a href="http://www.easternct.edu/advancement/victoria_soto.html">here</a>.
Charlotte Bacon, 6
On Feb. 22, what would have been Charlotte Bacon’s seventh birthday, the little girl’s supporters will announce the winners of the <a href="http://www.newtownkindness.org/">Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award</a>. The initiative encourages people 18 and under to submit a drawing or story about an inspiring selfless act, along with $5 –- to support a fund for Sandy Hook shooting victims. Learn more <a href="http://www.facebook.com/NewtownKindness.org">here.</a>
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
The <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/12/18/sandy-hook-principal-dawn-hochsprung-remembered-for-heroic-acts/" target="_hplink">heroic principal </a> who died while lunging unarmed at Adam Lanza as he fired bullets at her students, according to officials, will be remembered through a fund set up in her honor. Find out how you can get involved in the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Memorial Fund <a href="https://www.wctfcu.com/News-and-Announcements/Dawn-Lafferty-Hochsprung-Memorial-Fund.aspx">here. </a>
Rachel D'avino, 29
<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/US/newtown-shooting-teachers-aide-rachel-davinos-boyfriend-propose/story?id=17999719" target="_hplink">Rachel D’Avino</a>, a behavioral therapist who shielded her students from bullets, according to ABC News, is being honored through a fund set up in her name. Find out how you can get involved with the <a href="http://www.conncf.org/cart/viewProduct.cfm?productID=2029" target="_hplink">Rachel Marie D’Avino Memorial Fund</a> here.
Olivia Engel, 6
To help the parents of <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/15/connecticut-shooting-victims_n_2308463.html">Olivia Engel</a> -- a 6-year-old girl who "had perfect manners" and was the "teacher's pet, the line leader" –- take time to grieve for their daughter, supporters have set up the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofOliviaEngel">Friends of the Engel Family Fund</a>. Find out how you can donate <a href="https://www.facebook.com/FriendsofOliviaEngel">here. </a>
Avielle Richman, 6
Her parents’ “little hummingbird,” <a href="http://www.legacy.com/ns/obituary.aspx?pid=161726376">Avielle Richman</a>, 6, loved horses, Harry Potter and the color red and will be honored through a fund set up in her name. Contributions to the Avielle Richman Memorial Fund can be made to PO Box 686, Newtown, CT 06470.
Josephine Gay, 7
<a href="http://www.wfsb.com/story/20392783/family-of-josephine-gay-7-releases-statement">Josephine Gay</a> never learned to speak, but the girl with the “indomitable” spirit was social, affectionate and partook in rigorous therapy daily without complaint, according to a statement released by her parents. To help other kids with autism, who face many of the same struggles Josephine tackled head on, her family has set up <a href="https://www.flutiefoundation.org/Donate-Joeys-Fund.asp">“Joey’s Fund”</a> through the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. Find out how you can get involved <a href="https://www.flutiefoundation.org/Donate-Joeys-Fund.asp">here. </a>
An “upbeat and kind” 6-year-old who loved to wear bright, flowery dresses, a neighbor told the Wall Street Journal, <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324481204578181244231543014.html">Madeleine Hsu </a>will be honored through a memorial fund set up in her name. Donations can be sent to the <a href="http://newtownbee.com/Obituaries/2012-12-20__08-51-24/Madeleine+F.+Hsu">Madeleine Hsu Memorial Fund</a>, c/o Wells Fargo Bank, 26 Church Hill Road, Newtown CT 06470
Dylan Hockley, 6
<a href="http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/18/15994142-family-newtown-boys-favorite-teacher-died-cradling-him-in-her-arms?lite">Dylan Hockley</a>, 6, died in the arms of his favorite teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, according to a statement released by the family. His parents now hope to give other kids with autism the kind of specialized attention that helped Dylan thrive through a fund set up in his name. Donations to the Dylan Hockley Memorial Fund can be made <a href="http://www.dylanhockley.com/#">online</a> or sent to PO Box 553 Botsford, CT 06404.
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
To keep alive their daughter’s deep-seated love of animals, <a href="http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newstimes/obituary.aspx?n=catherine-hubbard&pid=161771328&fhid=11690#fbLoggedOut">Catherine Violet Hubbard’s parents </a>have asked supporters to donate to the <a href="http://www.theanimalcenter.org/">Newtown Animal Shelter</a>, an organization that cares for homeless, unwanted and abandoned animals. Find out how you can make a contribution in Catherine’s memory <a href="http://www.theanimalcenter.org/donate.htm">here.</a>
Chase Kowalski, 7
An avid athlete who loved baseball and had already won his first “mini triathlon” at age 6, Chase Kowalski’s parents hope to honor their son’s vivacious spirit through a <a href="http://www.chasekowalskifund.com/">fund set up in his name</a> and through a still developing project, called <a href="http://www.facebook.com/ChaseKowalskiMemorialFund">"Chase’s Place."</a> Find out more <a href="http://www.facebook.com/ChaseKowalskiMemorialFund">here.</a>
Jesse Lewis, 6
To honor the little boy who shared his mom’s love of horses, and often fell asleep in her arms, <a href="http://jesselewismemorialfund.com/eulogy/">Jesse Lewis’ parents set up a memorial fund in his name </a>that will pay for Jesse’s older brother’s education and college tuition. Find out how you can get involved <a href="http://jesselewismemorialfund.com/eulogy/">here.</a>
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
She was only 6 when she died, but <a href="http://newtown.patch.com/articles/music-scholarship-to-be-created-in-memory-of-sandy-hook-elementary-victim#video-12600658">Ana Grace Márquez-Greene </a>had already cultivated a deep passion for singing and dancing, a passion her parents hope to make possible for other aspiring artists through a <a href="http://www.wcsu.edu/ia/greene-scholarship.asp">music scholarship fund</a> at Western Connecticut State University. The Marquez-Greene family has also established a <a href="https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1001402&code=klingberg%20home%20page">therapy fund </a>to help them through the grieving process. Find out how you can involved <a href="http://www.wcsu.edu/ia/greene-scholarship.asp">here</a> and <a href="https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1001402&code=klingberg%20home%20page">here.</a>
James Mattioli, 6
To honor their son whom they described as an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/18/james-mattioli-jessica-rekos-funerals_n_2322016.html">"energetic, loving friend to all,”</a> James R. Mattioli’s parents have set up a <a href="http://www.wktv.com/news/local/James-J-Mattioli-6-will-be-laid-to-rest-Tuesday-183733751.html">memorial fund</a> in his name. Donations can be sent to the James R. Mattioli Memorial Fund c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470.
Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7
Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7, was a "girly girl" who loved playing dress-up and wearing pink, her grandmother told <a href="http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Little-angel-Grace-McDonnell-remembered-by-family-after-Newtown-massacre-183767921.html"> Irish Central, </a> and her family hopes to keep her legacy alive through the <a href="http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newstimes/obituary.aspx?pid=161813590#fbLoggedOut">Grace Memorial Fund </a>at the Fairfield County Community Foundation. Donations can be mailed to the Fairfield County Community Foundation, 383 Main Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
She died cradling Dylan Hockley, the autistic 6-year-old for whom she served as a teacher's aide, <a href="http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/20/16040904-cardinal-teacher-who-gave-her-life-is-like-jesus?lite">according NBC</a>. Anne Marie Murphy's family hopes to keep alive <a href="http://events.autismspeaks.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=272001&lis=1&supId=0&team=5351484">her passion for helping kids with special needs</a> by asking supporters to donate to the country's largest autism science and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, in her honor. Learn more <a href="http://www.autismspeaks.org/" target="_hplink">here</a>.
Jack Pinto, 6
A diehard Giants fan who was honored after his passing by his favorite player, Victor Cruz, according to the New York Daily News, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/giants/cruz-feels-special-bond-newtown-victim-article-1.1221800">Jack Pinto, 6,</a> will be remembered through a fund set up in his name that will disperse money to organizations that help families in need. Find out how you can get involved with the <a href="https://iphi.stellarfinancial.com/mssb/OrganizationView/tabid/69/dispatch/byorganization_id$200363_hash$738c40e4945e432576e1437f6126d255fc0d0aaa/Default.aspx">Jack A. Pinto Charitable Fund</a> here.
Noah Pozner, 6
The youngest of the 20 children killed during the shooting, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/noah-pozner-eulogy-newtown_n_2317621.html">Noah Pozner </a>leaves behind four siblings, including his twin sister and best friend, Arielle. Supporters have set up the <a href="http://noahpozner.org/">Noah's Ark of Hope Fund</a> to provide the little boy's siblings with counseling services, education and basic needs. Donations can be made <a href="http://noahpozner.org/">online</a> and checks can be mailed to Noah's Ark of Hope Fund 261 S. Main St. #332 Newtown, CT 06470.
Caroline Previdi, 6
To honor <a href="http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/newstimes/obituary.aspx?n=caroline-previdi&pid=161771763#fbLoggedOut">Caroline Previdi</a>, a 6-year-old who loved to draw and dance, Beta Theta Pi –- the fraternity to which her father belonged –- launched a fund in her memory that will help support the grieving family and provide college tuition scholarships to worthy students majoring in Education, according to the <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/fraternity-starts-fund-caroline-previdi-article-1.1223400">New York Daily News</a>. Find out how you can support the Caroline Previdi of Sandy Hook Elementary Memorial Scholarship Fund <a href="https://gift.betathetapi.org/idonate/ifund.aspx?Amount=DEFAULT&Dist=TS153&App=OH_NF_PREVIDI&swDed=f&swCh=f&pghdr=NF_PREVIDI&swAP=t&bBO=PA&AcctGrp=PPFD_&bQA=Q3&AltStyle=beta.css&swgt=NF_PREVIDI">here. </a>
Jessica Rekos, 6
Remembered as a little girl who adored horses, the movie “Free Willy” and playing with her two younger brothers, <a href="http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/12/16/little-girl-killed-in-school-massacre-remembered-for-love-of-horses-learning/">according to CBS,</a> Jessica Rekos is being honored through a fund set up in her name. Donations can be sent to the Jessica Rekos Memorial Fund PO Box 713, Newtown, CT 06470-0713
Lauren Rousseau, 30
When <a href="http://www.newstimes.com/local/article/Lauren-Rousseau-The-best-year-of-her-life-4120850.php" target="_hplink">Lauren Rousseau</a> landed a permanent substitute teaching job at Sandy Hook Elementary School, her mother told the NewsTimes it was the “best year of her life." A scholarship fund has been set up in her name through the Pi Beta Phi Foundation. Find out how you can get involved <a href="http://www.pibetaphifoundation.org/laurenrousseauscholarship">here.</a>
Mary Sherlach, 56
School psychologist <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/sandy-hook-shooting-heroes_n_2311072.html">Mary Sherlach</a> lunged toward Adam Lanza in an effort to stop the gunman and died while trying to protect her beloved students, officials said. Family members are honoring Sherlach's memory through a fund set up in her memory through the Fairfield County Community Foundation. Learn how you can get involved <a href="http://www.fccfoundation.org/cm/Sandy%20Hook%20School.html">here.</a>
Allison Wyatt, 6
<a href="http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Allison-Wyatt-Made-the-World-a-Better-Place--184002071.html">Allison Wyatt "loved to laugh</a> and was developing her own wonderful sense of humor,” her family wrote in a statement obtained by NBC. The Wyatts have established two funds in Allison’s memory –- the fund set up in her name will support charities in her honor and the second will provide Allison's younger sister with ongoing support and help pay for her college education. Donations payable to "Ben Wyatt as Custodian" can be mailed to Steve DeMartino, c/o TransAct Technologies Inc., One Hamden Center, 2319 Whitney Avenue, Suite 3B, Hamden, CT 06518.