As residents prepared to observe Christmas less than two weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school, people sharing in the town’s mourning brought offerings of cards, handmade snowflakes and sympathy.
Tiny empty Christmas stockings with the victims’ names on them hung from trees in the neighborhood where the children were shot. On Christmas Eve, residents said they would light luminaries outside their homes in memory of the victims.
“We know that they’ll feel loved. They’ll feel that somebody actually cares,” said Treyvon Smalls, a 15-year-old from a few towns away who arrived at town hall with hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state.
At the Trinity Episcopal Church, less than three kilometers from the school, an overflow crowd of several hundred people attended Christmas Eve services. They were greeted by the sounds of a children’s choir echoing throughout a sanctuary hall that had its walls decorated with green wreaths adorned with red bows.
The church program said flowers were donated in honor of Sandy Hook shooting victims, identified by name or as the “school angels” and “Sandy Hook families.”
The service, which generally took on a celebratory tone, made only a few vague references to the shooting. Pastor Kathie Adams-Shepherd led the congregation in praying “that the joy and consolation of the wonderful counselor might enliven all who are touched by illness, danger, or grief, especially all those families affected by the shootings in Sandy Hook.”
Police say the gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother in her bed before his Dec. 14 rampage and committed suicide as he heard officers arriving. Authorities have yet to give a theory about his motive.
While the grief is still fresh, some residents are urging political activism in the wake of the tragedy. A grassroots group called Newtown United has been meeting at the library to talk about issues ranging from gun control, to increasing mental health services to the types of memorials that could be erected for the victims. Some clergy members have said they also intend to push for change.
“We seek not to be the town of tragedy,” said Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel. “But, we seek to be the town where all the great changes started.”
Since the shooting, messages similar to the ones delivered Monday have arrived from around the world. People have donated toys, books, money and more. A United Way fund, one of many, has collected US$3 million. People have given nearly US$500,000 to a memorial scholarship fund at the University of Connecticut. On Christmas Day, police from other towns have agreed to work so Newtown officers can have time off.
At Washington’s National Cathedral, the 20 children who were killed also were remembered. Angels made of paper doilies were used to adorn the altar in the children’s chapel. They’ll be displayed there through Jan. 6.
In the center of Newtown’s Sandy Hook section Monday, a steady stream of residents and out-of-towners snapped pictures, lit candles and dropped off children’s gifts at an expansive memorial filled with stuffed animals, poems, flowers, posters and cards.
“All the families who lost those little kids, Christmas will never be the same,” said Philippe Poncet, a Newtown resident originally from France. “Everybody across the world is trying to share the tragedy with our community here.”