OGDEN — In what was repeatedly described as a giant group hug, well-wishers wept and alternately chuckled as little Emilie Parker, killed a week ago in a Connecticut school shooting, was lovingly remembered Thursday night for her fondness of painting, flowers and caterpillars.
Many of the several hundred people who packed Ben Lomond High School’s atrium during the memorial service dabbed their eyes as Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old Emilie, expressed gratitude for the public support and shared recollections of his beloved daughter.
“It feels like we have gotten big hugs from everybody,” Parker told the crowd.
“We love you, Robbie!” someone from the audience shouted during his remarks.
Parker only made a brief reference to last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed the lives of 26 victims, including 20 children. “There is no reason for us to be here tonight,” he said.
Parker said he and his wife, Alissa, and their two surviving children were touched as they drove around Ogden and spotted hundreds of pink ribbons tied around power poles and street signs in honor of Emilie.
“I thought how many hands it took to tie the ribbons,” he said. “My gosh, you guys. You’ve been wonderful.”
Robbie Parker said he drove by his family’s first home on 23rd Street in Ogden and recalled a Christmas where they constructed homemade gifts for each other.
He also said that after the family moved to New Mexico and then Connecticut, Emilie enjoyed talking about visiting Ogden with her mother, who enjoys photography.
“She looked at Alissa and said, ‘I think we will come back on another trip and I can paint and you can take pictures,’ ” Robbie Parker recalled.
Karen Parker, who is Emilie’s grandmother, said she enjoyed attending the little girl’s dance recital about a year ago in New Mexico. She said what struck her during the recital was her granddaughter’s concentration while the other young dancers played around.
“Everything about her was perfection,” Karen Parker said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to share in her life.”
Brady Cottle, who is Emilie’s uncle, told the crowd the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has impacted the nation, generating an outpouring of support for the Parker family.
He noted that a large Christmas tree that stood in the Ben Lomond atrium was decorated with ornaments made by community members in the Newtown, Conn., area.
Cottle also read recollections about Emilie from her relatives and siblings. One cousin recalled that during a hiking trip, Emilie found a bunch of caterpillars, which she named and then carried on a stick while walking along a trail. In addition, Emilie taught one of her sisters how to draw.
“ ‘Emilie says I’m special,’ ” Cottle said, recalling the sister’s recollection.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said he is honored that the Parkers chose to have Emilie buried in the city.
“We are honored to give you a warm, safe place to put her to rest,” he said.
Alan Prothero, of Ogden, and Brad Schultz, of North Salt Lake, also close friends of Robbie Parker, spoke. The pair, who have set up the Emilie Parker Fund to raise money to help the Parker family, thanked those in the audience for attending the service.
“Your love and community support has been felt,” Prothero said.
Among those attending the service was Matt Bryant, a teacher at Bonneville Elementary School in Ogden, who said the school shooting has affected local teachers.
“It was sad and very close to us in education.”
A video slideshow of photographs was also shown, depicting Emilie picking flowers, showing off her art work, fishing, playing on a beach and engaging in other activities.
The service culminated on the Ben Lomond football field with the launching of sky lanterns in memory of Emilie and other victims of the school shooting.