It was 6:46 a.m., on August 26 and Alison Parker, a local TV reporter, was in the middle of conducting a live interview when at least eight gunshots were heard, followed by screams. The video of the incident captures the frightening image of the gun pointed at Alison, just as the camera falls to the ground.
Alison, 24, and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were fatally shot by Vester Flanagan, a former employee at their same TV station, WDBJ.
Devastated, Barbara Parker, Alison’s mother, decided that very to day to turn her grief into a mission to end gun violence.
Anything, she says, to make sure no other mother has to endure the same tragedy.
“You have a choice when something like this happens,” Barbara, 66, from Collinsville, Virginia, tells PEOPLE. “You can curl up in a fetal position and just close out everything or you can get angry – and that’s what we did.”
Since that horrible day almost nine months ago, Barbara and her husband Andy, 62, both retired, have taken on a new job as tireless advocates for gun control. In January they met with President Barack Obama to discuss his executive actions forcing individuals who sell firearms to register as licensed dealers.
They’ve also attended dozens of marches around the country and on Saturday, they will be in New York for the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense America’s fourth annual Brooklyn Bridge March.
“I’m very proud to be there and fight this battle with other amazing moms,” says Parker. “We all have the same goal in mind. We’re not trying to tell people that no one in this country should have a gun, but there should be responsible gun ownership. If guns are available to people that shouldn’t have access to them, then everyone is at risk and no one is safe.”
Most days, Barbara was sound asleep during Alison’s early-morning shift at WDBJ News in Roanoke, Virginia.
“We always joked around with her that we couldn’t wake up that early. She was on at 5:50 am and then 6:15 and 6:45,” says Barbara, who also has a 28-year-old son. “But after I woke up, I’d sit down at my computer with my cup of coffee and watch her on the Internet.”
Things started off as usual on that fateful morning. “I watched her first segment,” says Barbara, “and then there were no more. I thought, ‘Oh, the truck is down,’ because that happens sometimes. Then I got a call from her boyfriend Chris [the couple had been dating about nine months] who also worked at the station that there had been a shooting.”
Frantic, Barbara woke Andy up and started calling area hospitals and the local police station – to no avail. Finally, two anguished hours later, she says, “the [TV] station called us and told us she had been killed.”
After that, she says, “It was all a blur.”
Barbara and Andy have never watched the horrifying video of Alison being shot.
“We protect ourselves from actually seeing those things,” she says. “What keeps us going is having the memory of our daughter exactly the way she was.”
Keeping Alison’s Memory Alive
For Barbara, Alison was the same happy-go-lucky woman in life that viewers saw on TV every morning.
“She was happy, she was in love, she was a good journalist,” she says. “She loved investigative journalism and also cared about other people she mentored.”
Many cared for her as well – among them her boyfriend, Chris, who was an evening anchor at WDBJ News. “We said to each other often that we wanted to get married and grow old with each other and spend our days together,” Chris told PEOPLE after she was killed in August.
Outside of work, she was a talented dancer who loved the arts – two passions that inspired her parents to create the non-profit organization, For Alison, that provides instruments to underprivileged students interested in music, as well as the funding for dance recitals, symphony concerts and theater performances in low-income areas.
“We want to help others and keep Alison’s legacy alive forever,” says Barbara.
Barbara’s favorite memory – and what she misses the most – was their special mother-daughter lunches every Monday.
“I was working part-time and had Mondays off so, after she got off work I’d drive to see her, we’d go out to eat and then maybe go shopping for clothes that she could wear on air,” she says. “I miss those Mondays.”
When Alison graduated from high school, her parents gave her a bag of charms to carry in her pocket: a heart for love, a peace sign for hope, an angel to watch over her, an acorn to symbolize a long and happy life, and the world – because the world was in her hands. “When we scattered Alison’s ashes in a river, we included a bag of charms,” she says.
On a recent trip to Paris, they left charms all around the city, leaving a piece of Alison wherever they go in life. “She will always be there with us,” she says. “We want to keep her memory alive.”
A Second Son
And Chris, who Barbara says lost the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with, is helping them do that. Since the shooting, Barbara says he’s become their second son. “We love Chris dearly. He’s down here all the time. He’s like another child to us now,” she says. “We do things together every weekend.”
“Their relationship was blossoming,” she says. “He goes home to their apartment every day. I don t know how he does it. He s a very strong person.”
She says they’re all doing the best they can to keep Alison alive in their hearts – and to honor her memory.
“Andy and I have always been horrified by the gun violence in this country but we never went out and did anything to fight it until we lost Alison,” she says. “We didn’t think this could happen to us, but it did. It’s now our job to try and prevent it from happening to anyone else.”