News Article Details

Mother of Sandy Hook victim tells why she started support organization

Tribune-Star - 10/26/2017

Oct. 26--On the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, 7-year-old Josephine Gay was one of 20 children, along with six adult staff members, killed by lone gunman Adam Lanza inside Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Connecticut.

Gay's family called her "Joey," an autistic first-grader known for her constant smile.

Joey's mother, Michele Gay, spoke at three Terre Haute locations Wednesday, explaining how the tragedy led to the formation of "Safe and Sound -- A Sandy Hook initiative." Her last stop was the St. Patrick School gymnasium in the evening.

"Our organization came out of the tragedy at Sandy Hook," said Gay, co-founder (with Alissa Parker) and executive director of Safe and Sound. "Her beautiful daughter [Emilie] and my beautiful daughter were besties. We're very much inspired by them, still, to this day.

Gay said her family had moved from Maryland to the Sandy Hook community when her husband took a new job.

"I specifically chose that school," she noted. "I wanted my family to be there. It was a wonderful place for my family."

A former elementary school teacher with a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Towson University and a master's in curriculum and instruction from McDaniel College, Gay told her audience Wednesday about her personal memories of that fateful December day from almost five years ago.

"Snow hadn't started yet, but it was still pretty chilly," she recalled. "It was kinda close to the holidays, so there was a lot of excitement in the air and it was a Friday. ... We [parents] were all doing the same things, getting off to work and getting our kids off to school."

That day, Gay dropped off her three daughters, including Joey, safely at school.

"She loved school," Gay said. "She loved Sandy Hook."

Soon afterward, Gay received a call from Newton Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, who informed her there had been a shooting and all of the schools were on lockdown.

After driving around to schools in the district, Gay eventually ended up near Sandy Hook, where she noticed a whirlwind of activity outside the school Joey attended.

Later, it was learned that the 20-year-old Lanza -- using his mother's Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle -- had shot his way through a glass panel to enter the building. Inside the building for less than 12 minutes, he managed to kill the 26 people -- including all but one student hiding in a bathroom from Josephine Gay's first-grade class -- before he committed suicide.

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Spending several months trying to cope with the tragedy, Gay and Parker started Safe and Sound in the spring of 2013.

"We're all about education," Gay said. "We're all about empowering school communities. ... It's a legacy for our daughters, and it's a way for everything they experienced to benefit others.

"We hope to help schools increase and improve their school safety. We conduct workshops and training sessions. We provide free resources. We connect school communities to experts. We have quite a large team of experts and speakers."

To learn more about Safe and Sound, visit safeandsoundschools.org.

David Hughes can be reached at 812-231-4224 or at david.hughes@tribstar.com. Follow David on Twitter @ TribStarDavid.

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(c)2017 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.)

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