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."
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