How Alison Parker's Parents Are Fighting to End Gun Violence 1 Year After Her Death on Live TV
Since Alison's horrifying death on live TV last year, her parents have committed themselves to ending the gun violence that impacts American families every day
“And we don’t want to,” says Alison’s dad, Andy Parker. “We want gun violence to stop. We don’t need this many guns in America. To the people that drink the NRA Kool-Aid, we’re not trying to take your guns away. We want to make sure the wrong people can’t get guns and we want to close some of those gun show loopholes.”
Little more than a year ago, as they scarfed down their breakfasts or prepared for the coming day, thousands of startled Virginians watched Alison’s final moments unfold on live television.
While conducting an on-air interview in August 2015, the promising young TV journalist and her cameraman, Adam Ward, were ambushed by a disgruntled former colleague, Vester Flanagan.
Flanagan opened fire as he approached Parker and Ward. They both died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds, becoming only the seventh and eighth journalists since 1992 to be killed on the job in the United States.
Since Alison’s horrifying death, her parents have committed themselves to ending the gun violence that impacts American families every day.
To that end, Andy and wife Barbara Parker say they have spent the last year connecting with other gun violence victims (“We don’t like to call ourselves ‘survivors,’ ” Barbara says) and reaching out to national lawmakers about gun legislation.
They have also teamed up with Donna Dees-Thomases – a well-known gun control advocate who organized 2000’s Million Mom March – for The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence, a nationwide event being staged Sunday that aims to raise awareness and support for the cause.
“Donna told us she started organizing this concert as a reaction to Alison’s death,” Andy explains. “She touched a lot of people’s lives and she was the kindest soul I have ever encountered.”
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The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence will feature more than 350 live music events in many states, including a star-studded concert at New York City’s Beacon Theatre featuring Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Vy Higginsen’s Gospel Choir of Harlem, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Marc Cohn – himself a gun violence survivor.
“One night 11 years ago, a man high on crystal meth with a pistol shot through the windshield of my band’s van as we were heading back to our hotel after a show,” Cohn tells PEOPLE. “I ended up with a bullet in my left temple. The only reason I’m alive today is that the windshield sufficiently slowed the bullet enough, preventing it from entering my brain. I had three children at that point and all of them could easily have been left fatherless that night. One more centimeter and my fourth child never would have been born.”
Cohn continues: “How did a man with a long and troubled history, and high as a freaking kite, end up with a .22 in his hand? How could I not raise my voice to at least try and draw attention to this crucial and deadly issue? How can anyone with any common sense not raise their voice, too?
“Add your voice to save other fathers, other mothers, other children. Maybe your own.”
Cohn and the Parkers have become friendly in the last year, after the musician learned one of Alison’s favorite songs was his signature track “Walking In Memphis.” She even danced to the 1991 song during a 2008 recital performance.
“We raised our kids to stand up for what’s important, so I think she would be proud of us and the work we’ve been doing the last year,” Barbara says.
For the Parkers, it is important for people to remember how Alison lived, not just how she died. As part of that mission, they’ve launched For Alison, a not-for-profit foundation that creates opportunities for students in southern Virginia to experience the arts.
The Parkers also tend to avoid “anything online that could be hurtful,” Barbara says, noting there are dozens of website perpetuating conspiracy theories that Alison is alive and well, and that her televised killing was just a well-crafted hoax.
“Someone contacted me on Facebook not long ago and asked, ‘How does Alison like living in Israel?’ ” Barbara says. “I responded that we’d scattered her ashes near a river in North Carolina, and asked, ‘How do you like living in your grandmother’s basement?’ You just avoid people and sites like that.”
The Parkers tell PEOPLE they still talk to Alison’s boyfriend, Chris Hurst, every day, and see him almost every weekend. Hurst is still a news anchor at the station where Alison – who knew at age 10 she wanted to be a journalist, according to her parents – was working when she was gunned down.
“He’s like our second son,” Barbara says of Hurst, before Andy interjects, “Their relationship was cut short. They had only moved in with each other a month before she was killed. They were made for each other.”
And while the Parkers have dedicated their lives to stemming the tide of gun violence, they’re struggling to accept they’ll never see their daughter again.
Andy says, “It’s still hard to come to grips with the fact that she’s gone.”