Joey Gay almost didn’t go to school on Dec. 14, 2012. The 7-year-old girl suffered a concussion a few weeks earlier and wasn’t feeling well.
Eventually, though, she felt up to it and her mother, Michele Gay, took her to school late. Michele dropped Joey off at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., around 9:20 a.m. About 15 minutes later, Joey became one of Adam Lanza’s 27 victims in one of the most repulsive mass shootings in American history.
Many parents of the children killed that day are quietly trying to rebuild their lives. Michele Gay is “putting our pain to work” by co-founding a nonprofit called Safe and Sound, a Sandy Hook initiative, which is dedicated to making schools safer.
Gay was in Charlotte Friday to talk to the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club about her work. Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten sat down with Gay the night before. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.
(At the school later) I parked and saw my second daughter evacuating with her class and I kind of breathed a sigh of relief. I figured some kid maybe brought his dad’s gun to school in his backpack. I ran over to my daughter and told her that I was just going to find her sister but everything was fine.
I still couldn’t find Joey. I sent my daughter home with a friend’s family and told her I was just going to stay and wait for Joey. And the day just dragged on and on and on and on.
(Authorities told parents 20 kids had been killed.) The room just fell apart and everyone was screaming and crying and I just got up and left. I couldn’t stay in there and I just sat in the car and thought about my daughter. I sat in the car and prayed and said, ‘Thank you for giving her to us.’
There are very simple things like doors that can be locked from the inside. We didn’t have that at Sandy Hook. Our teachers would have to go out in the hall, have their keys on their person, which they did not – and that goes to the training and education piece. They went to find their keys and realized they didn’t have time to find them, get to the door, go out to the hall, lock the door and pull it closed.
Simple things like locks, like alert systems, like instant communication with local police departments. Communication within the building; if I can inform the rest of the school building what’s going on, they are empowered to make a better decision for their safety.
The locked front door is great but we had not thought through glass. I’ve learned that’s been recommended for years by school safety experts. You have this big beautiful glass entryway, you need to reinforce it some way. That can be as inexpensive as installing ballistic film on existing windows, that’s about $8-15 per square foot. That means he cannot use that window as an entry point. These are things that are available and affordable.