PORTLAND – More than 100 people attended a candlelight vigil Sunday night in Portland to show their support for the victims of the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school and call for stronger gun-control laws.
The vigil, held in Monument Square, was organized by Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence, a nonprofit organization based in Portland.
The crowd was large despite below-freezing temperatures and light snow.
“Our hearts are broken. Our cheeks are tear-stained, and our confidence is shaken but our spirit is not broken,” said Bill Harwood, a founding member of the organization who also serves on Maine Citizens’ board of directors.
Harwood said Maine Citizens decided to hold the vigil as a way to help Maine residents deal with the shock of the shooting at the Newtown, Conn., school and to support the victims.
Harwood said Maine needs to more carefully regulate gun sales to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and do more thorough background checks.
The Connecticut shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, may have suffered from a personality disorder, law enforcement officials have said.
Authorities said 20 schoolchildren, all 6 or 7 years old, as well as six adults, were killed in the massacre.
Edward Suslovic, a Portland city councilor and member of Maine Citizens board of directors, said it is important for Mainers to show their support for victims’ families, who are experiencing “unspeakable grief and loss.”
Suslovic choked back tears as he read aloud the names and ages of the victims.
“I would ask you to stop and think what might have been,” Suslovic said.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, a former member of the Maine Legislature, said he supports gun-control laws.
“People don’t need an assault rifle to hunt or to protect themselves,” Brennan said.
Brennan said stronger gun controls should be put in place to protect children, and should not be viewed by gun owners as an infringement on their constitutional right to bear arms.
He said the shootings in Connecticut should serve as the starting point for stronger gun legislation.
“What happened in Connecticut shows that we are all vulnerable,” Brennan said.
Portland’s Superintendent of Schools Emmanuel Caulk told the crowd that Portland schools have taken steps to make sure students and staff are kept safe.
But Caulk added, “The acts of one individual violated the sanctity of our schools and in doing so violated us all.”
Caulk said that the shootings have shaken “the core and fabric of our schools.”
“Every (school) day has been forever changed as a result of this incident,” Caulk said.
Caulk urged parents to hug their children to let them know they are safe.
Tom Franklin, president of the Maine Citizens board, urged state political leaders to stand up to the National Rifle Association by enacting stronger gun-control laws.
Franklin said one quick fix in Maine would be to require background checks on people who purchase firearms at gun shows.
“Maine can show the nation that grief can be turned to action,” Franklin said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: