Utah community mourns, celebrates victims of Sandy Hook Elementary shooting
Ben Brewer, Deseret News
OGDEN — Speaking a few words in Portuguese, including the words that translated meant "for hope," Robbie Parker released a flying lantern representing his daughter into the dark sky.
What followed from Parker, his family and a large crowd that had gathered to support them were applause, hugs, tears and the playing of "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.
An estimated 1,000 people gathered Thursday at Ben Lomond High School to both mourn and celebrate the lives of 26 students and teachers tragically killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., including Parker's 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, a native of Ogden.
Standing at the 50 yard line of the high school football field, the public memorial service ended with members of the community selected release flying lanterns one by one into the air.
Before each lantern was released, the name of one of the teachers or students killed was read aloud, along with a sentence or two about them. Some choked up as they read and could barely finish reading the card.
At the end of the line was Robbie Parker, who read the name of his daughter.
The release of the lanterns capped off an hourlong memorial service during which an emotional Parker showed tears, gratitude and at times humor to try and help cope with the unimaginable tragedy his family has faced.
"This sucks. There's no reason for us to be here tonight," were Parker's opening words to the crowd that gathered inside the school's atrium.
But at the same time, Parker also said he was "so thankful for everybody that's here."
Robbie and Alissa Parker met at and graduated from Ben Lomond. For the past several years, they had been moving to different states and recently had found a home in Newtown.
Robbie Parker said Thursday that coming home and seeing the streets of Ogden lined with pink ribbons — Emilie's favorite color — and green and white ribbons — Sandy Hook's school colors — was overwhelming.
"It really made us feel like we were getting a big hug from everybody," he said. "With how crazy everything was back in Connecticut, I can't even begin to explain to help you guys understand what it was like."
Parker said he had been asked a lot lately how he was doing. "In my opinion, you need to come up with an alternate way to greet somebody," he joked.
But he said he understood the pain people were feeling for his family was real and deep.
"At times we felt like we were mourning inside of a glass house because there was so much attention on the situation," he said. "Then, as we come here and start to see and feel all your love, we know everyone is deeply concerned, and we know it's from a pure place."
Parker said he recently drove past the first house he and his wife Alissa lived in on 23rd Street — the house where they lived with Emilie. He remembered their first Christmas, how they were so broke that year they could only afford homemade gifts, and how he badly attempted to knit a scarf and hat.
Emilie would take walks with her father along the parkway in Ogden, but they would never get far because she had to stop and pick every flower she saw, he said. He recalled how his daughter loved to pick flowers — all flowers, no matter whose yard they were in.
Parker said he finally told his daughter she could pick all the dandelions she wanted, but she had to ask for permission to pick any other flowers.
Brady Cottle, Emilie's uncle, shared favorite memories Emilie's cousins had of the girl with the long golden hair. They ranged from being the best hiker, to teaching a cousin how to draw, to cooking stinky desserts, to dancing and collecting caterpillars.
"Remember not what was lost but what was resonated from her," Cottle said.
Karen Parker, Emilie's grandmother, remembered visiting her in Albuquerque, N.M., last year for Thanksgiving and watching her at a dance recital. Even when Emilie wasn't dancing, she was sitting properly watching the other dancers, she said.
"As I looked at her, I said to myself, 'That's a picture of perfection,'" Karen Parker recalled.
This Sunday, Emilie was supposed to be the angel in her church nativity scene in Newtown.
Thursday, an "angel tree" was set up in her honor at the atrium stage inside the school. All of the 200 ornaments hanging from it were angels sent from Newtown by either shops that donated them or residents who made them by hand. Special lighting gave the tree a pink tint.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell told Robbie Parker how much he admired him for staying so strong the past week and promised him that he had the city's support. He also commented on how every craft and grocery store in Ogden was sold out of pink ribbons.
"Thank you for allowing our community to share in this experience," Caldwell said.
A funeral service for Emilie will be held Saturday. The family has asked that the service be for family members and close friends only, but they are encouraging the public to line the funeral procession between the Rock Cliffs LDS Stake Center, 1000 Suncrest Drive, and Myers Evergreen Memorial Park, 100 Monroe Blvd. They are encouraging the community to post pink ribbons for Emilie and green and white ribbons to show support for the other victims and their families in Newtown.
In addition, 500 drawings made by classmates of one of Emilie's cousins will be displayed along the funeral route.
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