Newtown school tragedy: Emilie, the way she was
Ogden • Behind Emilie Parker's big blue eyes was a girl who saw well beyond her years.
The 6-year-old Utah native, one of 20 schoolchildren gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary, was remembered Wednesday by family and friends as a youngster who noticed the little things in life that made big differences in lives.
James Parker, her uncle who lived about 20 minutes from Emilie and her family in Connecticut, said that proved to be true in one of her last acts before the Dec. 14 shooting.
Parker said one of the young victims, 7-year-old Josephine Gay, had trouble communicating. Josephine was supposed to have a birthday party the next day, Dec. 15, and Emilie wanted to get her friend the perfect gift.
So Alissa Parker, Emilie's mother, took her daughter to the toy store. Emilie, her uncle recalled, had noticed Josephine's face would light up at the sight of a Barbie backpack. She'd smile when she saw a pink tutu.
For 30 minutes, Emilie roamed the store's aisles. When she came back, James Parker said, it was with a ballet Barbie doll. Two gifts in one.
"Emilie," her uncle added, "was one of those who, if she saw a need, she wouldn't stop until she got it."
But the events of Dec. 14 did stop her. And Emilie ("I'm Emilie, with an 'ie' because my daddy is Robbie with an 'ie,' " she often said), came back to Utah to be memorialized Thursday and buried Saturday in a horrific turn of events that the Parker family can barely comprehend.
The art of love • The Parkers parents Alissa and Robbie and their daughters Emilie, Madeline and Samantha seemed to be always on the move.
In 2008, they left Ogden for Oregon when Emilie was nearly 3 for Robbie's job as a physician assistant. In 2010, they moved to Albuquerque, N.M. Then, about eight months ago, the family went to Connecticut, where he landed a job with a hospital. They bought a house and, when Emilie told her mother she wanted to paint her bedroom pink, Alissa shrewdly negotiated a deal with her: Make the walls white and then put pink accessories in the room.
James Parker's wife, Natalie Parker, said it worked. But her niece didn't exactly skimp on the pink accessories, either.
"She had pink everything," she said, "a pink dresser and, well, the thing I remember most, is a big, pink four-post bed."
But the room also reflected Emilie's other passion: drawing.
Natalie Parker said the walls were adorned with the young girl's artwork. Her room was filled with markers, crayons, an easel she'd received on her last birthday, and paint. All kinds of paints. All kinds of colors.
"Alissa encouraged her artistic side so much," James Parker said.
But the drawings weren't always just for self-expression. Many times they were for selfless expression, creative acts designed to lift others. When her grandfather died earlier this year, she made a card for him and ensured it was put in his casket so he'd have something from her forever.
When her family moved to New Mexico and would visit James Parker in neighboring Arizona, she made a point to fuss over the dogs, Luke and Jack. When the family left, she cried. She worried the dogs would miss her.
She also noticed the smallest details when she drew the dogs, her uncle said, matching the colors of their collars blue for Luke, red for Jack.
Her uncle recalled Emilie once staying up past her bedtime drawing, so her father told her to go to sleep.
The next morning, Robbie Parker woke up to find a card at his door.
It read simply: "I'm sorry."
Heart of the class • Before the family left Ogden, Emilie attended Wee Wonders Preschool. She was enrolled for only four months, according to Wee Wonders owner Lori Waldron, but it was more than enough time for the bubbly child to leave a mark there.
"Sometimes kids just have that air about them," Waldron said. "They're just special."
Emilie's teacher, Melanie Okelberry, said her pupil was a friend to everyone in the class. She remembered all of their names a feat teachers can struggle to match.
"She had a heart of gold," Okelberry said, "for everybody."
On Emilie's last day at Wee Wonders, the class threw her a going-away party. Okelberry remembered that it was an emotional, tearful goodbye with Emilie and her parents.
"We cried and they cried," Okelberry said, "and then they went."
That would mark the last time the teacher would see or hear of Emilie until Friday, when she heard her name mentioned during news coverage of the shooting.
"Then her picture popped up," Okelberry said, "and then it was: 'Oh my gosh. That is our Emilie Parker.' "
A boundless future • The Parkers lived for a short time in Portland, Ore., only a few hours from Alissa Parker's brother, Brady Cottle, in Eugene.
Emilie and Cottle's son were about the same age. They enjoyed concocting elaborate stories about daring adventures and princesses who needed rescuing.
(Just recently, Emilie was delighting in stories her mom read to her about another famous adventurer, a young wizard named Harry. They were on book two of the Potter series, Natalie Parker said.)
Cottle can't remember how many times his energetic niece would run up to him, saying: "Uncle Brady, I gotta tell you something!" Her intricate plot lines impressed him, and he couldn't help but look at her and wonder at her future. It seemed boundless.
"She had so much potential and so much creativity and so much energy," Cottle said. "You just didn't know where it was going to take her and lead her."
While the Parkers lived in Portland, they also befriended Jacob Weidert.
The 32-year-old physician assistant worked with Robbie Parker and was struck by Emilie's girly nature. When Weidert said he was getting married next summer, he wanted the three Parker sisters to be flower girls in the wedding.
He laughed when Emilie showed him the white dress she wanted to wear.
"I was like, 'That's a white dress' and she was like, 'And?' "
But now he'd give anything to change what will happen Saturday, when the 6-year-old is buried next to her grandfather in Ogden.
She will be wearing that white dress. And buried with her will be her favorite American Girl doll with a matching dress sewn by her grandmother.
In today's print edition of The Salt Lake Tribune, a large amount of blank space was intentionally left at the end of this story, to symbolize the unfinished nature of Emilie Parker's life. It was accompanied by her portrait and text reading "This space is dedicated to what should have been the rest of Emilie's life - her triumphs, her loves, her letdowns, her big moments, her quiet delights. It's a story she never had the chance to write."
See the print pages here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/117503909/salt-lake-tribune-20121220-A01-A04