Newtown Mom Reflects on Meeting Gunman's Father: 'I Wanted to Understand What he Knew'
Alissa Parker opens up about her meeting with Peter Lanza a month after the shooting and how her perspective about him – and his son – changed after that
Like many other people, Alissa Parker wanted answers in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Mostly, she wanted to know what could possess 20-year-old Adam Lanza to drive to the Newtown, Connecticut, school on Dec. 14, 2012, and fatally shoot six adults and 20 first graders — including Parker’s six-year-old daughter, Emilie.
Weeks after the shooting, she sought to meet the one person she thought might hold the answer to that question: the gunman’s father, Peter Lanza.
“I wanted to understand what he knew,” Parker tells PEOPLE.
In her new book, An Unseen Angel: A Mother’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Healing After Sandy Hook, which came out April 4, Parker opens up about her meeting with Peter Lanza a month after the shooting and how her perspective about him – and his son – changed after that.
Trying to heal her own shattered heart and unburden herself of the intense hatred she felt for the gunman, Parker hoped his father could reveal something about his son’s background or medical history that would help explain his behavior that cold December day.
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She and her husband, Robbie, arranged to meet him on Jan. 24, 2013 in an office building in Wilton, Connecticut.
Before the meeting, she says, “I felt really passionate about saying the things I felt like I needed to say, but I really didn’t want to hear much from him about his son or what he was like. That was not why I wanted to meet with him.”
But when the three met face to face, something unexpected happened when Peter Lanza began to open up about his own heartbreak.
“It was like this switch went off in him and he just started to unload all the feelings and emotions he had,” she says.
As Peter Lanza told her and Robbie how Adam grew up into a very different person than the little boy he had raised, she began to understand that he was also in tremendous pain.
“At this point I realized that what was keeping me up at night was very different from what was keeping Mr. Lanza up at night,” she writes.
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At the end of the two-hour meeting, she says she also realized that while she was surrounded by sympathy and compassion, “he was blamed and despised for what his son had done,” she writes. “Peter Lanza was alone in the world.”
After meeting with Peter Lanza – and praying — she also came to forgive his son for what he had taken from her. “I never expected to feel those feelings toward him.”
Feeling Emilie’s Spirit
In detailing her emotional and spiritual journey after losing Emilie, Parker writes about how she and her family feel her daughter’s presence in their lives — and about how her loving spirit is helping them to heal and forgive.
“The book is about the journey to understand how angels are around us and how they help us when they are on the other side,” she says.
Parker writes that she feels Emilie’s presence whenever she sees butterflies.
“For me, understanding these small miracles of feeling loved ones around you that have passed onto the other side is not so much about the experience itself, but the feeling that is accompanied by it,” Parker says. “These are experiences my family and I had over and over again.”
Parker says she hopes readers find her story hopeful.
“It’s a universal story about finding the light in all the darkness in the world,” she says. “Finding the light all around us was not always easy to see, but I realized it was there and that I had to let that light back into my life.”