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Fun Center honors Newtown victim; experts warn of 'trolling' on support sites

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 10:22 p.m. MDT

Janelle McMurray pays for her kids to go into the Layton Classic Fun Center in Layton. The center donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Janelle McMurray pays for her kids to go into the Layton Classic Fun Center in Layton. The center donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

LAYTON — Children glide upon the neon carpet of a local roller-skating rink, twirling to the quick beats of young Michael Jackson.

Their exuberance is a stark contrast to the solemnity of the occasion.

Why host a party for the family of 6-year-old Emilie Parker, one of 26 victims in the Connecticut school shooting? Kerrie Andrews has no personal connection to the Parker family, and she's never lived in Connecticut.

But the answer, she said, is simple.

"I know what it's like to lose a loved one," said Andrews, of Roy, fiddling with a pink ribbon as she searches for the words to express the inexpressible. "I know the heartache of losing a child you expected would come home that night. And I know sometimes you just need a reason to smile."

Michael Meredith helps his son Domonic with his skates as he and his wife, Brandi, take their family out for the night. Classic Fun Center in Layton donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Michael Meredith helps his son Domonic with his skates as he and his wife, Brandi, take their family out for the night. Classic Fun Center in Layton donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Emilie, originally from Ogden, was shot and killed Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On Monday, Classic Fun Center hosted a fundraising event for the Parker family.

"This tragedy has lifted the community," said Rhonda Jones, of Clinton. "We all pull together to help out."

"We're here to support them because sometimes support is all you can offer," said Brandi Meredith, of Clearfield. 

Support has come virtually, as well. The Emilie Parker Fund, a Facebook page created by friends of the Parkers to support her family and help pay for funeral arrangements, grief counseling and time off work, had received up to 331,171 likes by Monday and a steady stream of supportive posts.

"My heart aches for you!" Lori Strong wrote Wednesday.

Michael Meredith helps his son Domonic out on the floor as Classic Fun Center in Layton donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Michael Meredith helps his son Domonic out on the floor as Classic Fun Center in Layton donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"Such a precious little girl with bright blue eyes from another world," wrote Carolyne Williams on Sunday.

"I feel so inadequate to be able to articulate my sincere appreciation for what everyone has done to support the families of every victim in this horrible tragedy," wrote Robbie Parker, Emily's father, on Dec. 21. "There has been so much support, love and prayers offered, and it has given my family such strength."

Incidents receiving national attention, however, cannot escape the condemnation of skeptics.

"The Parker family should not forget that the support outweighs the negative," Jones said. "Where there is good, there is always negative. You got to take it as it comes and focus on the good."

High-traffic memorial pages are almost always trolled on Facebook, said Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an Internet safety organization and one of five members of Facebook's national safety advisory board.

Classic Fun Center in Layton donates proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Classic Fun Center in Layton donates proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

"These sites become high targets for such attacks," Aftab said.

The comments question the validity of the event and accuse the family and surrounding public of conspiracy.

"Imagine how much money (they're) making from this scam," Jesse Aaron Vance posted on the Facebook page Monday. "Who loses a child and (posts) a fund on Facebook the next day?" 

Facebook tries to assist people in policing users, Aftab said. Page administrators should block and report uncivil users to Facebook so they can take disciplinary action.

Page creators, too, can remind other users to refrain from responding to the trolls, Aftab said.

"Responding to negative comments adds fuel to the fire and feeds the craziness," he said.

Due to the anonymous nature of the comments, people will say whatever they want, said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and associate professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University. Users should protect their privacy by creating an unidentifiable name or changing their username, Hinduja said.

Brandi Meredith tries to hold her daughter Briona as she falls to the floor while holding her other daughter Isabella at Layton's Classic Fun Center. The center donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Brandi Meredith tries to hold her daughter Briona as she falls to the floor while holding her other daughter Isabella at Layton's Classic Fun Center. The center donated proceeds from ticket sales Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, to the Emilie Parker Fund. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

As far as prevention goes, there is little to do, he said. In any public forum, you will get people who will use it for ill motives.

In many states, bills have been introduced to protect victims of cyber-bullying, but the difficulty lies in defining the term and retaining free speech rights, Hinduja said.

"There's no magic bullet," he said, "but each of us, individually, can play a part."

E-mail: rlowry@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company