(Photo: Facebook/Emilie Parker Fund)
Fighting back tears and struggling to catch his breath, the father of a 6-year-old gunned down in Friday's school shooting in Connecticut told the world about a bright little girl who loved to draw and was always smiling-- reserving surprising words of sympathy for the gunman's family.
Robbie Parker's daughter Emilie was among the 20 children who died in the one of the worst schoolyard attacks in U.S. history. He was one of the first parents to speak publicly about their loss.
"She was beautiful. She was blond. She was always smiling," he said.
Parker spoke to reporters not long after police released the names and ages of the victims on Saturday, a simple document that told a horrifying story of loss.
He expressed no animosity or anger, offering only prayers for the family of the man who killed 26 people and himself.
Robert and Alissa Parker leave the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire House in tears after a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Friday morning, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. (Photo: AP)
Parker remarked, struggling with every phrase, on Saturday:
It's a horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them-- this includes the family of the shooter. I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family, and our love and our support goes out to you as well.
At this time our thanks go out to so many people...My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that's the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done, but because those were the gifts that were given to her by her Heavenly Father.
As the deep pain begins to settle into our hearts, we find comfort reflecting on the incredible person that Emilie was, and how many lives she was able to touch in her short time here on earth.
Emilie was bright, creative, and very loving. Emilie was always willing to try new things-- other than food. She loved to use her talents to touch the lives of everyone she came into contact with. She was an exceptional artist, and she always carried around her markers and pencils so that she never missed an opportunity to draw a picture or make a card for those around her.
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 to write them an encouraging note. [Emphasis added]
This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker and her father. (Photo: AP)
Parker proceeded to discuss what a remarkable mentor Emilie was to her two little sisters, ages 3 and 4, and how she loved teaching them how to "read, dance, and find the simple joys in life."
"Emily's laughter was infectious, and all those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world is a better place because she has been in it," he said of his daughter.
Parker concluded by saying we cannot let tragedies define us.
Struggling to maintain his voice, he urged:
"Let it [be] something that inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and humble people. Let us please keep the sentiments of love that we feel for our families, and the compassion that we feel for others-- even complete strangers-- and keep them with us at all times, not just in times of sorrow and tragedy. And may we do this so that we can better all of our communities, and all of our cities and all our states, so we can make everyone, everywhere in this country feel safe."
Watch Parker's complete remarks, via CNN, below:
And here is the subsequent "question and answer" session.
In it, Parker explains why his last conversation with his daughter was in Portuguese, and how God could not have taken away the shooter's free will to prevent the tragedy:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.