One month after Michele Gay’s 7-year-old daughter, Josephine, was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., she said her two older daughters asked many questions.
But one stuck out specifically in her mind: “Are we going to be safe in these schools?”
The girls were talking about the schools in their new home in Massachusetts.
Michele and her husband, Bob, had been planning a move in 2012 to a Boston suburb specifically for Josephine, citing the school district’s superb program for autistic students.
The move was only weeks away when the couple received heart-wrenching news: Little Joey was among 20 students and 6 adults who were killed Dec. 14, 2012, in the massacre at Sandy Hook. Police have said that the victims were shot by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who then killed himself.
Though devastated, the Gays moved to Massachusetts as planned, and since their arrival, Michele has made it her mission to ensure that her daughters’ new schools are as safe as possible.
Now, through a collaboration with the town and local authorities, Michele has spurred the Sudbury district to upgrade school security and emergency preparedness through a cloud-based technology that provides police with live video from camera feeds in Sudbury schools, interactive floor plans of each school building, and 360- degree virtual views of every classroom, utility closet, and hallway.
‘We feel like she picked this place for us. We have found lots of ways to bring her here. This has been a safe place to heal and piece ourselves back together.’Michele Gay, Referring to her daughter Joey
The system will be in place in the four Sudbury elementary schools, the town’s middle school, and the Lincoln- Sudbury Regional High School.
NaviGate Prepared — a privately owned, Ohio-based company that provides the service — is donating the equipment, school snapshots, and web-based accounts, valued at around $20,000, to Sudbury on behalf of the Gay family.
“This is a great match for us, and is an amazing gift,” Gay said before a NaviGate presentation in Sudbury Thursday.
The Lincoln-Sudbury regional district is no stranger to school tragedies. In 2007, John Odgren, then 16, stabbed a fellow student, James F. Alenson, 15, to death in a Lincoln- Sudbury Regional High School bathroom. Odgren was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison without parole.
After the murder, Sudbury officials upgraded their safety and emergency plans, but the hard copies and binders of information easily became outdated as updates were lost in the shuffle of day-to-day life, said Sudbury Police Chief Scott Nix.
The town also started practicing more safety measures, like locking doors in school buildings housing grades K-8, after the Sandy Hook shooting.
“It’s important to ensure our kids are as safe as we can make them,” Nix said.
Nix said the user-friendly NaviGate service, which combines all emergency plans, protocols, and school mappings in one virtual place, would give authorities an edge when rushing out to 911 calls, noting that visuals of the schools are available to all emergency responders with access to a web browser and the account password.
“They even go in and take pictures of every nook and cranny at the school, so we know all the places someone could be hiding in,” Nix said. “All you need to access this is a smartphone, an iPad, or a laptop in the cruiser.”
The service also provides class attendance sheets for teachers to take roll call and headshots of police officers responding to emergencies. Gay said Newtown administrators lacked these resources in Sandy Hook, leading to chaos and confusion on that tragic day.
“Our teachers’ minds were on the students,” Gay said at the NaviGate presentation. “They had no information, no phone numbers. They couldn’t even take attendance. This will allow us much more peace of mind.”
NaviGate will also monitor various town buildings, including the public library and Town Hall, in addition to the schools.
Gay, a former teacher, does not limit her safe schools advocacy to the local level.
She and another Newtown parent — Alissa Parker, whose daughter Emilie was killed in the shooting — launched the nonprofit Safe and Sound: A Sandy Hook Initiative, which aims to improve security at all US schools by connecting communities with safety specialists.
Besides her work with Safe and Sound, Gay said her family has been working to settle in to their new Massachusetts life, especially after losing Joey.
“We feel like she picked this place for us,” Gay said before the presentation, adding that their new community’s New England atmosphere feels similar to Newtown. “We have found lots of ways to bring her here. This has been a safe place to heal and piece ourselves back together.”
As she introduced a NaviGate representative and the company’s system to an audience of about a dozen community leaders, police officers, and reporters, Gay said she would continue working to make sure that schools are as safe as possible.
“They [NaviGate] are donating this in my daughter’s honor,” she said.
Both of Gay’s hands fluttered to her heart as she added: “Thank you so much.”