Sharing Hope, Reflecting On Tragedy, Five Years After The Horror At Sandy Hook
Tears, prayers, reflection and hope flowed across the state Thursday as Connecticut remembered what many say was the worst day in its history. Church doors opened for special services, there were observations in schools and offices, and flags flew at half staff on the five-year anniversary of the horrible day when 20 children and six educators were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
St. Rose Of Lima in Newtown was filled to capacity Thursday night as parishioners gathered to remember those lost. Before the Mass Monsignor Robert Weiss said, with a subdued tone, “I did a service for the students in our school and they were stone silent, they understood the gravity of the day.”
Two masses were held in the morning, but many people came to St. Rose on their own during the day. There were church services held all around Newtown and throughout the state.
“Look at those candles over there,” Weiss said, pointing to rows of prayer candles that had been set up by people who stopped by and lit up a corner of the church. “It was touching to see people coming in to say a private prayer in silence.”
Thursday night’s Mass started with reading the names of each of the 26 victims. As each name was read, bells tolled and set of wings representing each victim was put on a tree near the alter. There were several readings from the Bible, two by Walker Previdi, whose younger sister Caroline was a victim.
Bridgeport Bishop Frank Caggiano said the pain will never fully go away, but that healing is possible. He urged people to rely on each other for help.
“This is part of the healing process,” said Vincenza McNulty. “We are all here together. We want to continue to heal and show the world how you respond, how you make something good out of something bad.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spoke, along with Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
Murphy told congregants that Newtown has set an example for the rest of the world to follow.
“That bright light cannot be extinguished,” Murphy said.
At Trinity Church in Newtown, Green cloth cloaked two long tables in front of the pulpit, the long stemmed candles burning low as prayers lifted up those gathered.
The same color was flecked throughout the pews — in bright emerald ribbons safety-pinned to winter coats and in sweaters and scarves of all hues, worn by some of the 100 or so people in the sanctuary at the interfaith prayer vigil.
Just before service, the soft, brassy notes of a trumpet echoed through the nave from the Main Street steps, where a man was practicing in the bitter cold. The music leaned into the sound of the organ, then into hymns and finally prayers, for peace and understanding and strength as time pulls a community ever further from the tragedy that brought it together.
“Five years of a journey whose destination is still uncertain, a journey with many twists and turns and with many, many lows,” said Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of Newtown Congregational Church. “A journey that needs us at this moment to remember to celebrate the lives we shared, a moment to grieve the souls lost to us, to ponder what it is we might be as a community in this moment some five years later.”
That journey seemed to pause for a moment early Thursday when bells around Newtown also tolled 26 times, marking the time of the shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, forever scarring this Fairfield County town and thrusting it into the national consciousness as the reluctant symbol of gun violence.
In Trinity Church Thursday night, a reading of the victims’ names brought fresh tears from parishioners and community members. One woman sat with an arm slung around her neighbor, another with a hand on her mouth, as if holding her breath as well as her silence.
The service represented 11 faiths but the messages wove together.
“Indeed, with every hardship comes ease.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”
“And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
As they left, some people took a candy cane from a bunch left at the church as an anonymous gift, “a gift that just showed up on the steps, as gifts seem to show up even five years later,” one of the clergy noted.
A Cold, Solemn Morning
Parishioners leaving the morning mass at St. Rose of Lima Church paused to reflect as each tone of the church bell was struck.
“We pray for the victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy,” the priest told about 50 people gathered for the mass. “There are some heroes, too.”
The priest recalled an article about some of the families who suffered in the tragedy and how they are seeking to forgive.
“Those are heroes,” he said. “Those are examples. That’s Christ, truly alive.”
The priest continued, “reflect as you remember their souls — truly reflect at the beauty they reflected in their lives.”
The scene at the Sandy Hook firehouse was calm compared to the nightmare of five years ago, when hundreds of frantic parents gathered seeking news about their children and what had happened at the nearby school.
Several dozen Christmas trees with a light dusting of snow on them leaned against racks awaiting sale as part of a fire company fundraiser. On the firehouse roof the morning’s light snow covered 26 stars, six large and 20 small, honoring those who died.
The Rev. Lori Miller of Newtown United Methodist Church opened the sanctuary to those who needed a place to pray or reflect. Some members of her congregation were deeply impacted by the tragedy.
“I think the milestones are difficult years,” she said.
Newtown has an active clergy that works each year to provide those who need it with a peaceful place with counseling.
Miller said she has suggested people pray and talk to others as they deal with the anniversary.
Some families deeply affected by the tragedy leave town on Dec. 14 to escape the memories and observances.
In Washington, members of the state’s congressional delegation called on colleagues to honor the victims by taking action to strengthen the nation’s gun laws.
Blumenthal spoke on the Senate floor around 11 a.m.
“If nothing else is remembered of that day five years ago let us honor with action those strong and courageous families who have suffered this unspeakable horror and still unimaginable grief and who have come here in years past to ask us to honor with action,” he said.
Blumenthal said Dec. 14, 2012, “will be forever a stain on our nation’s history.” But so will the day the Senate voted down legislation to expand gun background checks, he said.
Murphy, speaking on the Senate floor in the afternoon, said: “It’s easy to hang your head thinking of all the things that haven’t happened.”
But he focused his remarks on the many charities and foundations that have sprung up in memory of the 26 Sandy Hook victims and how the families in Newtown have coped.
“Watching the rebirth of these families instills a sense of faith in the human spirit that’s hard to explain,” he said.
Murphy said the mother of one of the Sandy Hook first-graders had visited his Senate office recently and told him to “keep going.”
“For those of us who believe the laws of this country must change ... it’s what we do,” he said. “As we mark five years since the violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we keep going.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who was elected a month before the massacre, read the names of the Sandy Hook victims on the House floor.
“It’s sad,” she said. “It’s sad and it’s inexcusable that as I stand here five years later, the people’s House still has not taken action.”
Staff writers Russell Blair and David Owens contributed to this story.