Local vigils remember victims of Newtown school shooting
Cecilia Darby of Shutesbury, left, with her daughter, Jolene, and Kate and Nina Marciano, right, of Amherst take part in a vigil at First Congregational Church in Amherst for the victims of the Newtown, Conn. shooting. Purchase photo reprints »
A vigil was held at the First Congregational Church in Amherst on Saturday night in memory of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — At a vigil outside Jackson Street School late Sunday afternoon in memory of those killed in a shooting rampage two days earlier at a school in Connecticut, there were candles, songs and poetry.
But mostly, there was silence.
The crowd of more than 70 that gathered at the flagpole at 5 p.m. included administrators, teachers, parents and students. At times, it was quiet enough to hear an icy mist hitting the pole where the flag flew at half-staff.
“We’re here to share our sorrow and light a candle for hope,” said Jackson Street Principal Gwen Agna, who organized the event to help her school community cope with the shocking news that a 20-year-old shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., on Friday and gunned down 20 young children and six adults before killing himself.
While setting up the candles Sunday, Agna said she had received numerous emails over the weekend from school parents about the shooting incident.
“They’ve expressed a mix of gratitude and concern,” she said. Gratitude for the chance to come together in honor of those killed and “concern about how we’re going to respond,” Agna said.
Services were held in other local communities over the weekend to mourn the heartbreaking loss of life at the Connecticut school.
In Amherst, about 100 people attended an interfaith prayer service Saturday at First Congregational Church on Main Street,
“Death must not have the final word,” the Rev. Vicki Kemper told those who gathered. “We are determined that violence will not win.”
The service, led by clergy from several Amherst churches, ended in a candlelight vigil outside the church.
Amherst resident Nancy Brose and her husband, Carlton, members of First Congregational since 1974, said they had come to the gathering because “we need to be together to share the sadness, but also our strength.”
Parents Amy Martyn and Amy Waldman were among the first to arrive at Sunday’s vigil at Jackson Street School. They said they had come early to change the message on the sign on front of the school — a job they volunteer for weekly, but which seemed especially important in light of Friday’s events.
They chose a version of a Taoist saying: “Let there be peace in our hearts and homes and in the world.”
“We thought that would be an appropriate sentiment for this time and this season,” Waldman said.
They had told their daughter, who attends third grade at Jackson Street, only the barest details about the shootings in Newtown.
“She asked us why it happened,” Martyn said. “It’s so hard to talk about. It’s impossible to put into words the grief and pain we feel.”
P.J. Jones, an educational support professional at Jackson Street, said she came to the vigil, “to be among friends. Everyone is traumatized by this. We’re all worried about (Monday) and how to deal with this at school.”
Jones said she had been unable to tear herself away from TV and other news reports about the shootings on Friday. “Now, I just want to back away and be with friends,” she said, her eyes filling. “This is like a family coming together.”
Former Jackson Street student Aaron Andrews, now a freshman at Northampton High School, said he had come to the vigil because “I felt so sad about how this happened. Those children were really little. It’s just unexplainable.”
Participants, their faces lit by candles, stood in a slowly widening ring around the flagpole. As the names of the dead were read aloud, sobs could be heard around the circle.
They also sang, improvising verses to “This Little Light of Mine” and concluding with “Amazing Grace.”
Even as the mist became a cold rain, many participants lingered for several minutes before extinguishing their candles and heading to their vehicles in the parking lot.
Before he left, third-grade teacher Kent Brenneck set up 26 luminaria on the front steps of the school to mark the start of Las Posadas, a Latin American tradition honoring Mary, and for each one of the schoolchildren, teachers and administrators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gazette contributing writing Etta Walsh contributed to this report.