Newtown, Conn., officials and families of victims are seeking to commemorate the first anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School with privacy for grieving and with everyday acts of kindness.
On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza invaded the school and killed 20 children and six educators before killing himself. Before going to the school he killed his mother in the house they shared. Since the shooting, Newtown and Sandy Hook have become symbols of the horror that gun violence can cause and its power to wound a town.
Relatives of 14 of the 26 victims took to a rare public podium and told reporters that they would be lighting candles in honor of the anniversary. In voices strained by emotion, they thanked the world for the outpouring of love and support. JoAnn Bacon, the mother of one of the first-graders killed, began Monday's poignant litany: "Our family will be lighting a candle on the eve of 12/14, the last night we spent with our sweet Charlotte."
"Simply to say thank you is not enough," Krista Rekos, mother of slain first-grader Jessica Rekos said at the televised gathering of families.
"In the midst of our grief we have come to realize that we want our loved ones to be remembered for the lives they lived and how they touched our hearts," Rekos said. "We have been uplifted by the support of so many people, and we would like to keep that spirit of unity alive in all we do to remember those we so dearly miss."
After the shooting, the media camped out in Newtown for weeks as the town held funerals.
"We can't choose to not have this horrible thing happen to us. It happened. We cannot make it un-happen," First Selectman Pat Llodra, joined by other city officials, said at another televised news conference. "But we can choose how we react to it."
"Please respect our need to be alone and to be quiet and to have that personal time to continue on our journey of grief in the way that serves us," she said.
"Newtown is cracked," said Matt Crebbin, senior minister for Newtown Congregational Church and coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Assn., paraphrasing a lyric by songwriter Leonard Cohen.
"He writes in one song that there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," Crebbin explained. "I'd say Newtown is cracked. We've been through a devastating experience and yet in the midst of our cracks and our brokenness there is light shining through."
Interim Supt. John Reed said the school district would attempt to have as normal a day as possible Friday, the day before the anniversary. A majority of students and staff are expected to come to school. The goal is to "maintain as much as possible the consistency and ebb and flow of the school day," he said.
The Sandy Hook school has been demolished and the school district is working on plans to replace the building.
Police Chief Mike Kehoe said there would be an "increased law enforcement presence" in Newtown all weekend to provide a sense of security. "We're going to do what we can to make it a routine day, like any Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
In a report released last month, state investigators said Lanza acted alone, using guns legally purchased by his mother. Though Lanza suffered from mental problems, the report says, investigators could not determine why he attacked the school, other than that it was close by.
Local officials and members of Connecticut's congressional delegation have also appealed for acts of service to honor those slain, a stand endorsed by many of the families of the victims. In addition to calling for acts of kindness in honor of the dead, the relatives announced a website, http://mysandyhookfamily.org, with remembrances, biographies and photos of the dead and information on how families are honoring victims.
"This website is intended to serve as a singular place of sharing, communication,and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day," the site says. "MySandyHookFamily.org allows us, the 26 families, the opportunity to honor our loved ones in a way that feels right to each individual family."