Robbie Parker struggled to contain his emotions as he described how his 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, used her infectious laugh and love of art to touch the lives of everyone she met.
"I can't count the number of times Emilie noticed someone feeling sad or frustrated and would rush to find a piece of paper to draw them a picture or write them an encouraging note," he said.
Emilie, who spent several years of her young life living in Ogden, was among the 20 children killed during a mass shooting in a Connecticut elementary school Friday. Her family plans to bring her back to Utah for funeral services and to bury her in Ogden.
Parker spoke to reporters in Connecticut not long after police released the names and ages of the victims, a simple document that told a horrifying story of loss.
He expressed no animosity, said he was not mad and offered sympathy for the family of Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people and himself.
To Lanza's family, he said, "I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you."
Parker said he struggled to explain Emilie's death to her two siblings, 3 and 4.
"She delighted in teaching them to read, dance and find the simple joys in life," he said. "They seem to get the fact that they have somebody they're going to miss very much."
For Sandy resident Daren Cottle, the fact that his niece's daughter died along with teachers and classmates in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary began first as an ugly possibility, but slowly twisted into an unbearable reality as news started to trickle in Friday through the family's circles of communication.
"It's impossible to wrap your head around it," Cottle said.
Alissa and Robbie Parker moved their family to Connecticut about a year ago for his job as a respiratory therapist. The loss of Emilie comes just months after the tragic loss of Alissa Parker's father.
In September, 62-year-old Doug Cottle died after two weeks in the hospital of brain injuries he received in a cycling accident. Daren Cottle said Emilie and her grandfather were very close. The bubbly first-grader turned to art to express herself after his death.
"She placed a very special card she made in the casket of her grandpa," Robbie Parker said.
"We'd gone through that as a family and now this," Cottle said. "It's almost how much are you supposed to be able to bear?"
At the funeral, Emilie made sure to be a comfort to anyone feeling sad, recalled Brian Joy, an LDS bishop who has known the family for years.
Joy knew the families of Alissa and Robbie while they grew up in Ogden. The couple has grown to be compassionate, caring people, Joy said. Emilie, the oldest of three girls, seemed destined to follow in her parents' footsteps, he said.
"When someone would be crying, she would always be there trying to make everything better," Joy said.
Daren Cottle said Emilie was often the center of attention. She was a great storyteller and loved to draw pictures to illustrate her stories.
"When you picture a 6-year-old little girl and everything good about a 6-year-old little girl and she was pretty much that," Cottle said.
Brad Schultz, a close friend of Robbie Parker who lives in North Salt Lake, said Emilie was smart, well-spoken and had a "contagious smile." Schultz was on the phone with Parker throughout most of the day Friday while the parents waited for confirmation of their daughter's death.
"I think they're being really strong because they have to be," Schultz said. "You can tell they're going through enormous pain, to the point they're not even sure what to feel."
"As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts," Parker told reporters, "we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person Emilie was and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on Earth."
Schultz and Alan Prothero, another close friend of the Parkers, set up a memorial fund and a corresponding Facebook page on Friday dedicated to Emilie. The Emilie Parker Fund has taken in more than $12,000 in donations to help defray costs of the funeral and travel for the family's return to Ogden as of Saturday afternoon, Schultz said.
"There's a lot of immediate need there," Schultz said.
The Emilie Parker Fund is set up at America First Credit Union. Donations can be made through the credit union or through the online service PayPal.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
How to donate
The Emilie Parker Fund is set up at America First Credit Union. Donations can be made through the credit union under the Emilie Parker Memorial Account, account number 5001359. Donations also can be made through a PayPal account linked to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.