A large crowd surrounded the gazebo in front of Monroe Town Hall Saturday night. The flickering glow of candles illuminated the sad faces of residents who came out to mourn the loss of 27 people in neighboring Newtown — killed in the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a tragedy that claimed the lives of 20 children.
"It's horrific," said Mark Offredi, a father of two. "I just never would have imagined anything like this anywhere. We just have to hang together as a community, because we are one."
Jeff Guttman, a Board of Education member in town, noted how the holiday season must make it even more difficult for the Sandy Hook families. "I want to send out our sympathy and prayers to Newtown," he said. "When parents put their children to bed tonight, I hope they realize how lucky they are."
Now that the list of the victims' names has been made public, Guttman said, "The best we can do for these people is to give them their space and keep them in our thoughts and prayers."
Davinder Heslin knows someone who lost a daughter in the shooting. So many people in Monroe wanted to do something, so Heslin reached out to First Selectman Steve Vavrek about hosting a vigil, then Vavrek contacted the police department to make it happen.
Heslin expressed her hope that the vigil could "start the healing process."
Vavrek said, "My main thing is making sure the Monroe community is safe and sound." Then he looked at the crowd gathered around the gazebo and added, "And, like now, showing they are a loving community."
Light Always Prevails
Saturday night's ceremony started after Rev. Kurt Huber, rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, rang a bell 26 times for all of the victims in the school.
Rev. Jennifer Gingras, senior pastor of Monroe Congregational Church and current president of the Monroe Clergy Association, also participated in the ceremony, along with Rev. Kevin Merritt, senior pastor of Stepney Baptist Church; Rev. Richard Flashman, senior pastor of Beacon Hill Evangelical Free Church; Pastor Andrew Courtney, associate of Monroe Congregational, and Deacon John DiTaranto of St. Jude Church.
The first selectman praised all of the town's first responders who assisted at the scene of Friday's tragic incident and the educators who consoled the children at a time when schools were in lockdown mode.
"Nothing compares to losing a child," Vavrek said. "All you children, hug your parents tonight."
Rev. Merritt and his son went to Sandy Hook Firehouse where families were holding out hope that their children would come out of the school building alive despite all news to the contrary.
"There was this great wave of grief for these folks to realize that the worst had happened," The Rev. Merritt said. "We experienced the very best and the very worst of humanity. As we prepare for Christmas, I think we could all pray for these families. Every time we wake up, say 'Lord, thank you,' and pray for the families of this unspeakable tragedy."
Rev. Flashman also spoke to some of the families and he was impressed with their unshakable faith in God. "We join our voices, our hearts and our minds together," he said.
The Masuk Choir sang "Prayer of the Children" and members of the clergy led everyone in prayer.
"We will not rest until our country is safe for all your children," Rev. Huber said.
There was a moment of silence to remember the victims and their families. Then the crowd sang "Amazing Grace".
Rev. Gingras concluded the vigil saying, "Dear friends, the light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. Go in peace, to love and serve one another."