|Robbie Parker at public memorial for his daughter|
It is 6 PM, and the atrium at Ben Lomond High School is slowly bulging with humanity. This is where the public memorial for Emilie Parker will be held. On a squat stage, a Christmas tree glowing with a pink hue, Emilie's favorite color is being decorated with ornaments made by residents of Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Principal Ben Smith is directing matronly women with their arms overflowing with boxes and ribbons in different directions. The school cafeteria is just 2 hundred feet from the tree. I can imagine teenage boys, in skater sneakers, and hoodies, flinging bits of Wonder Bread at one-another, while girls shriek and whisper, with their fingers darting across the glass of their smart phones, sending off messages into the air. Tonight the chaotic echos of teens on reprieve, is replaced with hushed tones, and gentle sentences like "It's so terrible," and "how can this happen?"
As one of Emilie's cousins downloads a highly produced video montage of pictures of the darling little girl onto a laptop, a curious woman perches herself just off my left shoulder. I can't see her, but I can certainly feel her. "Your Channel 2?" she chirps nervously, and she shuffles 4 envelopes in her hands, "I, I, I, I like you," she blurts, diverting her gaze to the cards she holds tightly in her palms, "but, but, but, I like Christina better, better." She is referring to Christina Flores a fellow reporter and anchor at 2 News, "I like her better too," I joke, as she simply stares at me, "do you know the family?" I try to break her gaze, "No, No, No, I, I," she pauses, "I just think, um, its bad," her words gently taper off, "That man!" she returns forcefully, "That man should go to jail!" I assume she is talking about the named Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, who police say took his own life after the rampage. I simply add: "yes he should."
For 10 awkward seconds we stand, then she thrust the cards towards me, "this one is for Christina, this one is for Heidi Hatch, and this one is for Jill," she says with a child-like grin stretching across her face.
The cards are for our news team who anchors the 4 o'clock program. The postage is tattered, worn, the corner frayed and it looks as if they have been carried from place to place for weeks. "Oh," I say, "that's very kind," Certain I will lose them, I inform the woman, "Christina will be her tonight, would you like to give them to her yourself?" The news that her favorite will be in the same room causes her to breath heavy, "she'll be here?" she beams as she points to the floor, "Oh, oh, oh!" she hops gently onto her toes with each proclamation, "OK!" and she shuffles quickly away, searching for Christina.
As the school begins to swell, the lights click on and off. First on the left side of the room then the right, as an unseen tech somewhere test them. I watch a man dart through the crowd, likely searching for family members of Emilie. I've seen him before. In fact I've seen him many times, at court hearings for high profile criminals, memorial services for fallen solders and candlelight vigils for wounded children.
As Emilie's family begins to assemble inside the school, they hug, and cry, and laugh, first friends approach, Brady Cottle, Emilie's uncle grabs the hand of the mammoth principal, and pulls him in for a comfortable bear hug, then acquaintances meekly approach. Then strangers. I watch the faces of the family as these strangers extend their prayers. I also watch as the Parker's adjust uncomfortably as people they've never met likely makes odd request or peculiar comment. I see an uncle smile awkwardly, as his eyes dart to another relative, as he tries to pull himself away from peculiar conversation.
As the memorial breaks up and family and strangers make their way to the football field to release 26 lanterns in honor of the fallen victims, I see the man with the blond pony tail and Coke bottle glasses, press his way through the bulging crowd towards Robbie Parker, his lips move as he practices his greeting, "are you the father?" I imagine he will say as he thrust his fingers into the grieving father's palm.