Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Heavy hearts this holiday

NEWTOWN, Conn. — People drawn to Newtown to share in its mourning brought cards and handmade snowflakes to town Monday, while residents prepared to observe Christmas less than two weeks after a gunman killed 20 children and six educators at an elementary school.

On Christmas Eve, residents planned to light luminarias outside their homes in memory of the victims. Tiny empty Christmas stockings with the victims' names on them hung from trees in the neighborhood where the children were shot.

"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 the town hall with hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state. Organizers said they wanted to let the families of the victims know they are not alone while also giving Connecticut children a chance to express their feelings about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Police say 20-year-old 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 offer a theory about his motive.

While the grief is still fresh, some residents are urging political activism in the wake of the tragedy. A grass roots group called Newtown United has been meeting at the library to talk about issues ranging from gun control to efforts to increase 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.

Since the shootings, 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 $3 million. People have given nearly $500,000 to a memorial scholarship fund at the University of Connecticut.

Richard Scinto, a deacon at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which was attended by eight of the children killed in the massacre, said the church's pastor, the Rev. Robert Weiss, used several eulogies this week to urge his congregation to take action against what some consider a culture of gun violence.

Gun control and mental health have also been topics at Newtown United meetings, along with what types of memorials would be most appropriate and other actions that residents can take.

"We don't want Newtown to go on the list with Columbine, Tucson and Virginia Tech and only have it associated with horrible acts," said Lee Shull, who moderated a Newton United meeting just days after the shootings. "We want to turn this into something positive."

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