News / Utah / 


Easy changes will improve school safety, Sandy Hook parent says

By Tania Mashburn and Mike Headrick | Posted - May 12, 2014 at 10:28 p.m.

11 photos

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

SALT LAKE CITY — The parents of a little girl killed in the Sandy Hook shooting are turning their tragedy into training.

Emilie Parker, 6, was one of 20 young victims struck down in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012. Since then, her parents, Robbie and Alissa Parker, have been on a mission to make schools safer.

"Emilie is still a big part of our family," Robbie Parker said. "She was a kid that got in trouble. She was a kid that made messes and did all that stuff too, but man, she was an amazing older sister."

He said the shooting at Sandy Hook was a tragedy that could have happened anywhere.

"There wasn't a murder in Newtown in over 10 years," he said. "It had a basically zero crime rate."

"That first night when we were home, we were asking ourselves all those questions about how could this happen and how could it happen so easily?" Parker said.

Since then, he and his wife have been reaching out to other schools and parents to help make school buildings safer.

Alissa Parker and another mom of a Sandy Hook victim started The organization has resources to help schools assess their current safety measures, as well as putting new measures into action.

"We want to let people know that there's free, very cheap, one-time, low-cost things that you can do right now immediately to improve the safety of your school," Parker said.

So far, they've helped hundreds of schools across the country, like Maria Montessori Academy in North Ogden. The charter school is already putting the Parkers' suggestions into action.

"It's not only empowering teachers and parents and the community, but it empowers the students in our classrooms," said Joy Baty, a teacher at Maria Montessori.

The school is applying easy fixes, like having parent volunteers make curtains to cover up interior windows. At Sandy Hook, the Parkers say there was one classroom that had a covered window and the gunman walked right by it.

"If they can't see anybody, a lot of times they don't want to waste time trying to find out," Parker said.

Another issue a lot of schools face is classrooms that don't lock from the inside. Maria Montessori solved that problem with a $3.50 magnetic strip.

"So if I was going to lock my door I'd have to come out here and use my key to lock it," Baty said. "So what the magnets do is save you time. You don't have to leave your classroom. You just remove the magnetic strip, my door stays locked all the time, pull it closed and now no one can come in from outside."

"After the shooting, one of the things that kept me up at night was the fact that our teacher was paralyzed in her ability to lock her classroom door," Parker said.

He also points to the fact that even though Sandy Hook had a buzz-in system at the front door, the gunman shot out a window.

"He had access to the whole school in less than a second," Parker said.

He suggests a bullet resistant film for exterior glass that takes extra time to shoot out.

"Whatever you can do to buy yourself a minute here, 30 seconds here, 30 seconds there, saves lives," Parker said.

Parker even said it was a good idea for schools to give their local police department their Wi-Fi password, so officers can sit in the school parking lot to fill out reports and maintain a presence at the school.

Since Sandy Hook, there have been more than 40 school shootings across the country. None have been in Utah, but schools here say they're still serious about security.

KSL toured schools in Granite and Canyons school districts to see new features like doors that can lock down entire sections of the school.

"If you had an active shooter in this part of the building, 90 percent of your population would be locked away behind locked doors," said Ben Horsley, communications director with Granite School District.

Many new schools also have extensive camera systems and new designs that make it easier to monitor larger sections of a school from one location.

But each school still has its own challenges like uncovered interior windows.

"The fact that this large window is here makes it difficult to hide kids within that room if there was an active shooter," Horsley said. "So that's a legitimate concern and threat."

Despite the challenges, the Parker said it's important to start somewhere.

"Let our hindsight be your foresight," Parker said. "Don't find yourself in the same situation that we're in to prompt you to have to act."

And remember a little girl with a big smile who is still making a lasting impression on the world.

"Emilie's story does have the ability to touch a lot of hearts and make a lot of changes for good," Parker said. "I'm very proud of her for that and for the life that she lived that can influence, not just me as her dad or Alissa as her mom, but anybody that's willing to open up their hearts to it."


Related Links

Related Stories

Tania Mashburn
    Mike Headrick

      KSL Weather Forecast