December 25, 2012

Newtown residents issue call for action

Some in the community urge activism ranging from gun control to memorials.

By BROCK VERGAKIS and KATIE ZEZIMA, The Associated Press

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

Visitors stand over the grave of Pinto, killed in the December 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown Village Cemetery
click image to enlarge

Visitors stand over the grave of 6-year-old Jack Pinto, one of 20 schoolchildren killed in the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown Village Cemetery in Connecticut on Monday. The graves of Pinto’s classmates, 6-year-old Allison Wyatt and 6-year-old Ana Grace Marquez-Green, are seen in the foreground and at right.

Reuters

On Christmas Eve, residents said they would light luminaries 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 town hall with hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state.

Organizers said they wanted to let the families of 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.

At the Trinity Episcopal Church, less than 2 miles 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 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 $3 million. People have given nearly $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 the time off.

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."

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

Praver and Scinto said they are not opposed to hunting or to having police in schools, but both said something must be done to change what has become a culture of violence in the United States.

"These were his mother's guns," Scinto said. "Why would anyone want an assault rifle as part of a private citizen collection?"

A mediator who worked with gunman Adam Lanza's parents during their divorce has said Lanza, 20, was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism-like disorder that is not associated with violence. It is not known whether he had other mental health issues. The guns used in the shooting had been purchased legally by his mother, Nancy Lanza, a gun enthusiast.

 

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