Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech tragedies bring two women together in Roanoke

Advocates for safer schools share personal stories at school safety summit


ROANOKE, Va.- – For Michele Gay and Lisa Hamp, connecting with other families, survivors and communities helps them find purpose from their pain.

Gay lost her daughter Josephine in the Sandy Hook tragedy seven years ago.

"We are still picking up the pieces, to be honest with you. I think it's a long road," said Gay. 

A gunman fatally shot 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adults, including the principal. 

"It was kind of hard to wrap our heads around the fact that something tragic could happen, and tragedy doesn't discriminate," said Gay. 

Lisa Hamp shares a similar story. She's a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting. 

"He tried to enter into a classroom multiple times, but we were able to use the desk and chairs in the classroom to keep the shooter from entering," said Hamp. 

Gay and Hamp shared their stories in front of educators from across the Commonwealth for the Making Connections School Safety Summit.  

With cybersecurity, building security and digital citizenship on the agenda, they both say there needs to be a better setup for recovery after tragedies like theirs.

"I had untreated PTSD that snowballed into an eating disorder that snowballed into fertility struggles. And so when I went to go get help, they eventually started peeling back the layers and realized that one thing was caused by another, which caused another," said Hamp.

Hamp now advocates for school safety.

"Physical infrastructure, locks on doors. ... Access control and how do we keep the good people in but keep the bad people out. It's a real difficult problem. As well as things when it comes to recovery, the psychological impact that the shooting has," said Hamp.

Gay has turned her journey into recovery as executive director and co-founder of Safe and Sound Schools. She started the organization with Sandy Hook mother Alissa Parker. It helps schools prepare, respond and recover from school-based crises. It was also a way to honor their children and build a legacy to reflect their positive spirit. 

"It could be a weather hazard, it could be a natural disaster, it could be bullying and drug issues. And of course worst case scenario like what we experienced on Dec. 14, 2012," said Gay. 

Both Hamp and Gay say it's never easy to share painful lessons, but want others to hear their experiences so it can potentially save lives.

Cybersecurity, building security and digital citizenship were also on the agenda. Former U.S. Director of Intelligence General Jim Clapper was the keynote speaker and noted how teachers and administrators had to become security experts as well. 

"When they look a parent in the eye and say your kid will be safe in my building, that's a tremendous burden we place on educators," said Clapper.

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