NEWTOWN, Conn. — Bells tolled 26 times Saturday to honor the children and educators killed one year ago in a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School as local churches held memorial services and the country marked the anniversary with events including a White House moment of silence.
With snow falling and homes decorated with Christmas lights, Newtown looked every bit the classic New England town, with a coffee shop and general store doing steady business. But reminders of the private grief were everywhere. "God bless the families," read a sign posted at one house in the green and white colors of the Sandy Hook school, and a church posted that it was "open for prayer."
Ryan Knaggs, a chef who lives in Newtown, said that as the bells tolled he thought of two young victims who played soccer with his 7-year-old daughter.
"The echo of the bells, knowing some of the children personally, you feel the exactitude with each bell … the exactitude of the loss and the grief," Knaggs said.
The bells rang 26 times at St. Rose of Lima church in Newtown beginning at 9:30 a.m. — the moment the gunman shot his way into the school on Dec. 14, 2012 — and names of the victims were read over a loudspeaker. Connecticut's governor had asked for bells to ring across Connecticut and directed that flags be lowered to half-staff.
In Washington, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama lit 26 votive candles set up on a table in the White House Map Room — one each for the 20 children and six educators.
In his weekly radio address released hours earlier, Obama said the nation hasn't done enough to make its communities safer by keeping dangerous people from getting guns and healing troubled minds. Gun restrictions backed by the president in response to the shooting faced stiff opposition and ultimately stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
"We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds. We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for," Obama said.
Anniversary observances were held around the country, including in Tucson, Ariz., where about 100 people gathered as former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband planted a yellow rose bush in a memorial garden created after the 2011 shooting that nearly killed her. Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, said it is important to pause and support families of the Newtown victims.
Newtown itself asked for quiet and privacy on the anniversary.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed his mother inside their Newtown home before driving to the school and took his own life as police arrived.