In the months after the shooting, the Parker family weighed their options: If they stayed in Newtown, they feared their family would be forever defined by the killings. But if they moved away, how could they create a new life without leaving Emilie behind?
On an autumn afternoon in Brush Prairie, Clark County, aspen trees drop golden leaves as a damp breeze pulls through the branches of tall cedars outside the home of Robbie and Alissa Parker. Painted pumpkins sit in the shade of their covered porch. A small fountain bubbles next to the front walk, where a child’s pail and shovel sits on a stone wall.
Inside, the picture is no less bucolic. Lines of hazy sunlight filter through the blinds in the family room where Robbie reads on a sofa with 9-year-old Madeline. Dressed in a long-sleeve turquoise shirt, stretchy black pants and baby pink socks, she curls up close to him. Robbie pulls her closer when she asks for help figuring out a word she doesn’t know.
“What’s a cul-de-sac?” she asks, her finger stopped on the unfamiliar word on the page.
Robbie leans over and explains it to her.
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“Oh, like our street in Connecticut?” she asks, looking up at him.
“Sort of,” he replies.
The Parkers lived in Connecticut, in Newtown, when their oldest daughter Emilie was still alive. Sprinkled throughout their new home in Washington state are reminders of her life — a photo of the five Parkers surrounded by yellowing New England foliage, a frame Alissa made to display Emilie’s artwork. In the foyer hangs a small, framed poster of a playground in New London called “Emilie’s Shady Spot.”
Emilie Parker was one of the 20 first-graders killed by a gunman five years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A year after the shooting, Robbie, Alissa and their two younger daughters, Madeline and Samantha, drove to New London to dedicate the playground to Emilie. There, with about 100 volunteers, the Parkers helped build a pink, blue and black playground overlooking the Thames River.
In a concrete semicircle, volunteers carved “For You With Love Emilie” and Madeline and Samantha crouched to place their hands in the wet concrete, leaving their tiny handprints forever in Connecticut. It was one of the last things they’d do as a family in the state where Emilie was killed.
In the months after the shooting, as the family weighed whether to…