A day after the Newtown school shootings, people already were requesting Sandy Hook-related tattoos.
"It's a reminder of something you went through — good or bad. We do a lot of memorial tattoos. To this day, we do 9-11 tattoos," said Filipe Fernandes, 29, an artist at Danbury Tattoo & Piercing. "They're happy to get something that's meaningful."
Fernandes said that customers want permanent reminders on their rib cages, wrists, backs, arms and legs. He has probably done 20 or so related to Sandy Hook or Newtown. In those early days, people came in who knew Lauren Rousseau, one of the teachers killed in the worst elementary school shooting in history. They mostly bought small tattoos of ribbons, Fernandes said.
"It's almost like a psychological effect. It's [a kind of] closure," said Fernandes, who hosted a fundraiser and donated $900 to the My Sandy Hook Family Fund.
Peter Barresi got his Sandy Hook tattoo a month after the shooting. It serves many purposes, but not closure.
Barresi's son, Wyatt, is a first-grade student at Sandy Hook and among the students who survived the shooting that left 20 first-grade students and six women dead on Dec. 14. Also, Barresi, 38, is a volunteer firefighter with the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co. and was among the first-responders.
"I need it for me. I need it in some way that I can't forget," said Barresi, who attended Sandy Hook Elementary as a child. "We need to remember those [killed], and what kind of pain was involved that day, so that it reminds us not to take every day for granted or to get complacent. And also, it serves as a reminder for others that it can happen anywhere."
Barresi got his first tattoo, an American flag, penned on his left shoulder in 2011. His right shoulder, prime real estate for ink, is emblazoned with the Sandy Hook fire & rescue logo. But there's a difference: The usual medical symbol — a blue, six-pointed Star of Life and asklepian, or Rod of Asclepius entwined by a serpent — is replaced with a green ribbon, which is the school color for Sandy Hook.
Barresi said he has unwavering pride in being a volunteer firefighter in his hometown.
Inked For A Cause
The owner of Hat City Tattoo in Danbury, Chris Tavino, recalls being home on the evening of Dec. 14, studying the Newtown town logo: A black circle with the founding date, 1705, and a gold rooster — the gilded weather vane atop Newtown's meeting house, which is said to be pockmarked by bullet holes from French soldiers practicing their aim in 1781 while encamped there during the Revolutionary War.
"I remember sitting on the couch with my wife saying, 'I better figure out how to do this,'" Tavino said of the logo.
The next day, Tavino had his first customer asking for a Newtown tattoo. He's had about 15 since the shooting — people who wanted the town logo, a ribbon in Sandy Hook's school color or the date of the shooting and the school initials.
Tavino's parlor is a "street" shop — the type of place to get a traditional tattoo like one that a World War II veteran might have picked up while serving overseas, he said. "Gallery" shops generally require an appointment, rather than taking walk-ins, and cater to people who want colorful, interwoven murals.
Tavino also held a fundraiser in which people gave donations, and part of the proceeds from tattoos along with a raffle raised $4,100, which he also gave to the My Sandy Hook Family Fund.
Tattoos can range from $60 to several hundred dollars. Some shops are offering discounts for Newtown-related tattoos.
Kelley Ingenito, 37, of Danbury, paid $125 for a tattoo on the calf of her left leg — a bright candle and a rose with a scroll that says, "Sandy Hook." Ingenito was heartbroken over the shooting in her hometown, where she graduated high school in 1994. She went to the Labor of Love tattoo parlor in New Milford and left it to her trusted artist, to whom she is very loyal, to come up with an appropriate design for her grief. He decided on a candle, which brings to mind two different nights that she was in Newtown during which there were vigils and memorials with candles.
"It was almost a settling feeling," Ingenito said of tranquillity during the vigils. The peaceful mourning of 20 children and six educators killed on Dec. 14 helps bring closure for Ingenito.
Body ink, especially done in memory of a person dead or killed, can be a personal eulogy.
Tattoo artists in Danbury alone have drawn several dozen tributes since the shooting, and they expect more to come, especially when Newtown children become adults.
"For a lot of people, it's a very good way of expressing yourself," said Brian Galian, a tattoo artist at The Iron Butterfly in Danbury. "It's not just for the bad seed or the criminal."
Not long ago, Galian was hunched over fellow tattoo artist Topher Greene's left tricep, dotting together an intricate design on Greene's skin. Greene was holding his 4-month-old while Galian worked.
"We deal with people at their best moments, or their worst moments," said Galian, 33, who lives in Monroe. He likens the job to being part psychologist, part priest — "an ear to talk to."
Body art memorializing a dead relative or friend is a staple of the business. People get names written in elaborate script, or initials, to forever remember the life of someone dear and close.
"The location of this place might bring more memorials," Galian said.
Behind Galian, a window frames the sprawling cemetery across Tamarack Avenue from The Iron Butterfly, and Danbury Hospital is right around the corner.
The Sandy Hook shooting affected both Galian and Greene, who lives in Newtown, as it did so many parents of young children. Greene said that he and his wife didn't want to let their son Liam out of sight for days after the shooting. Galian has a 6-year-old daughter, Patience Rose, and a 4-year-old son, Oliver Michael, who will be among the many children in Connecticut invariably learning about murder at an age too fragile to fully comprehend it.
"This is going to be a heavy situation in their life, for their whole life," Galian said.