Editor's Note: The full text of Middletown Mayor Dan Drew's speech at Monday night's vigil can be viewed in the attached pdf.
Twenty-six names, spoken alternately by the city’s mayor and school superintendent, the uttering of each followed by the resounding clanging of a bell by the fire marshal, marked a solemn and emotional vigil for the victims of Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown.
“We come together tonight as members of one family,” Mayor Dan Drew said, as hundreds gathered on a cold, rainy night in the south portion of the city.
“Not the family of Middletown, nor the family of neighboring communities, but as one small segment of humanity brought together by the overwhelming grief that we share for the loss of 20 innocent children and the six brave women who died defending them.”
Middletown’s South Green, glowing with the fire of thousands of tiny holiday lights, drew more than 450 residents of the city and surrounding towns of Durham, Middlefield and Portland to commemorate the more than two dozen Dec. 14, when an armed 20-year-old gunman descended upon the primary school and took the lives of 20 schoolchildren, ages 6 and 7, six adults, including the principal and psychologist, four teachers, his mother and himself.
Firefighters, police and first-responders filtered onto the green at 7 p.m., along with area residents, many carrying candles protected by coffee cups, or alone, as mayor's aide Joseph Samolis and Middletown Fire Marshal Al Santostefano lit every single candle that traced the length of the stage, offering some portable candles to folks nearby.
Drew, who began the emotional vigil, offered a poignant speech, followed by Superintendent of Schools Patricia Charles, who, weeping, acknowledged the role of educators as caretakers for children, and explained how words sometimes are not adequate to express profound grief.
Middlefield First Selectman Jon Brayshaw stood onstage as Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield remained among the crowd in the near darkness. He joined seven members of the city’s common council sat on the show mobile stage along with clergy and dignitaries and school officials from surrounding towns.
“This is a crime that none of us can comprehend,” Drew said. “This moment has tested our fundamental beliefs about the world in which we live. It’s affected us in a way that few things ever have and we pray ever will again.
“Like the parents of those victims we held those victims and shed tears of joy as they drew their first breaths as the first smiles formed on their lips and as they gripped with an entire fist just one of our fingers,” Drew said, a speech he wrote himself Monday afternoon.
Bagpiper David Gade played “Amazing Grace,” during the short interlude as the crowd fell silent.
The Rev. Samuel Fuller of St. Pius X Church in Middletown followed with an invocation.
“Give us the freedom to cry fully and freely over this loss. Give us the freedom and the grace to cherish the lives that we have lost. Give us the freedom to be inspired by them,” Fuller said.
The invocation was given by the Rev. Stephanie Bennett of First United Methodist Church and benediction by Rabbi Seth Haaz of Congregation Adath Israel.
On Sunday, Westfield Firefighters held a daylong "fill-the-helmet" drive that raised more than $8,000 for the victims of Friday's shooting. A large contingent of firefighters and their families turned out at the event. Read a full report here.
For all of Patch's coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, see here.
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- How You Can Help: Memorial Donations For Sandy Hook Victims