NEWTOWN, CT -- Almost six years ago, 20 first graders went to school and never came home.
This massacre has shaped the way campuses across the country have looked at safety. That's partially thanks to two mothers who lost their daughters, and don't want anyone to experience what they went through.
Josephine Gay had just celebrated her 7th birthday, and had a party planned for December 15th 2012. The day before, a gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School, taking the life of Josephine before she had the chance to celebrate.
"Life was challenging for her, school life was challenging for her. But she was a very persistent young lady and that's part of what keeps me going and what inspires me is that persistance and indomitable spirit that she had," Michele Gay said.
Josephine or "Joey" was autistic and non-verbal. Another first grader, Emilie Parker, took the classmate under her wing.
"We'd joke about her being able to talk in an entire lifetime in those six years that she was on this earth because she was a chatterbox, she kind of thought out loud. That was what was so fun about her. She had this ability to just make friends quickly," Alissa Parker said.
The two mothers made contact after the tragedy, both feeling frustration that more could have been done to protect their children. They spent the next month channeling their hindsight into foresight for schools across the country.
"I do remember sitting in the parking lot that day just in disbelief that something like this could happen A, anywhere, B, in our sweet little community with high test scores and low crime rates," Gay said.
Six months later they created the Safe and Sound Schools foundation. The non-profit is a hub for resources, including trainings and seminars, that any school can access.
"Someone who absolutely didn't belong anywhere on our campus or in our school was very simply able to get access to our school by simply firing in a window unit... that was just unacceptable to me," Gay said.
Alissa Parker said she began noticing flaws at the school earlier in the year: how there was open access to hallways and that doors locked from the outside. To this day, the mother feels guilt she didn't voice her concerns.
"I thought about my daughter's location and that her classroom was the third classroom from the front door, and that made me kind of shiver inside," Parker said.
Safe and Sound has grown to assist schools in everything from prevention to recovery. As the foundation grows, the two are proud to see progress. But seeing other shootings in Parkland and Santa Fe, they recognize what more needs to be done.
"I immediately think of those families and what those families are feeling because I've been there and I know what that feels like to not know what has happened to your loved one and then when you receive that news that they aren't coming home with you, the words are frankly indescribable," Parker said.
For more information on the tools and resources available to schools across Green Country click here .
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