Mother's heartfelt message to first responders

Posted at 5:56 PM, May 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-26 20:56:48-04

Michele Gay has a heartfelt message for law enforcement officers, including those she addressed at the LEO awards banquet in Palm Beach County Thursday.   “Thank you,” she says, “your work is incredibly important.”

Such men and women—first responders from countless departments-- were there to support Gay the day her world crashed.  She remembers, “It started on that day, December 14th, 2012. We were just wrapped in a blanket of law enforcement folks.”

Michele’s first grade daughter, Josephine—they call her Joey—was among 20 students and 6 adults massacred by a young gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Joey had just turned 7.  Michele says, “Some of us fell to the ground, some of us became instantly angry. For me, I went and sat in my car and I started praying and that was my anchor, what I held onto and have continued to.”

Families and first responders—grieving together, healing together, chasing away the demons together. Michele recounts the conversations. “If only I had gotten there a few minutes earlier, if only I had been able to go into this door instead of that door, and we are all haunted by those (thoughts) naturally.  That is why it is important to band together.”

I asked Michele to talk about Joey and the words tumbled forth.  Michele says, “Inspiration, positivity, we’ve kept all of that close to us, we have kept her close to us.”

Michele, her husband, and Joey’s two surviving sisters moved from Newtown to the Boston area. Close enough to maintain old support networks but a chance for new beginnings too. “We are people of faith and so we do believe she is growing up in heaven now, but that feels pretty far away on most days here.”

Michele bridges the void, in part, with her work with “Safe and Sound Schools”.  It is the group she and another Sandy Hook parent co-founded. They travel the country now.  “The first thing we started bringing,” Michele says, “was conversation, sitting down and sharing our experience.”

Safety experts and law enforcement officials nationwide have consulted on the effort to improve school safety.  Michele recounts, “Whether it is bullying, or cyber safety, physical security of the school building, mental health programs, things like that.”

Through it all, Michele tells me, Joey is her guiding light.  She concludes, “I think my normal is looking to the future. My normal is knowing I’m here. I’m left to do her work and to be purposeful, to try to help as many folks around me and, in turn, myself.”