Shivering against a brisk wind in the cold night, Branford came together at 6 p.m. Sunday to seek solace and healing in the aftermath of Newtown’s slaughter, a town “only 40 miles from here,” First Selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos reminded the crowd, a town he said was a lot like Branford.
About 200 residents gathered at town Green where they held lit candles and remembered the 20 children and 6 teachers who were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly two weeks ago. This is where they wanted to be—on the Green with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree behind them.
Christmas had not yet arrived, but the mood was dark, even somber. The place for this event, this vigil, was at Town Hall where the ministers of the churches on the Green took their places at the top of Town Hall’s steps.
The Reverend Susan J. Murtha, the senior minister at the nearby First Congregational Church of Branford, reminded the community of 1996 massacre at the Dunblane School in Scotland where 16 students were killed inside a school gym. After the tragedy, she said, the Rev. John Bell of the Iona Abbey in Scotland, wrote a hymn as a tribute to the children who died at Dunblane.
“There is a Place” is the name of Bell’s hymn. “And tonight,” Rev. Murtha said,” I will read the words to his lament.” She read slowly. The community gathered close as she spoke. One verse went this way:
“There is a place where hands which held ours tightly
“Now are released beyond all hurt and fear
“Healed by that love which also feels our sorrow
“Tear after tear.”
The last verse reminds the reader that Jesus “bids us to be like little children Shields those our arms are yearning to embrace. God,” she said, quoting the hymn, “will ensure that all are reunited. There is a place.”
The Rev. Bill Keane, senior minister of the First Baptist Church, served as master of ceremonies.
“Tonight is a night of reaching out, holding on to one another, embracing our loved ones and friends, uplifting our strangers, those around us and holding close to our hearts the people of Newtown,” he said.
Next came Christopher Ford, the pastor at St. Mary’s Church. He read the 23rd psalm, beginning with “The Lord is my shepherd…”
He was followed by the Reverend Sharon Gracen (pictured) of the Trinity Episcopal Church and Pastor Paul Allen of the Shoreline Community Church. They took their places at the podium to read the names of the victims, the 20 children and the 6 teachers and administrators who were gunned down that day. They said each name slowly. Pastor Allen also read the name of Nancy Lanza, whose son Adam shot her death before going on killing spree at his former elementary school.
At the end of the list, Pastor Allen said: “And in keeping in the spirit of one of the fathers of one of the victims we also read the name of Adam Lanza,” he said.
No one said a word. Not every group has mentioned Adam Lanza’s name.
First Selectman DaRos (pictured right) observed that in Newtown “we see a community, much like ours,” a community that, like Branford, is close and concerned about its residents. “Tonight we are here at this vigil to show our support and to offer our condolences for the victims of this atrocious, senseless act of Dec. 12. We pray for the souls and we ask God to help those in Newtown as well as in our community to cope with this horrific event.
“We must not make excuses and look to blame,” he said. “What is important is to put our energies to come together as a community, as a state and as a nation and work on finding solutions. The community of Newton in the wake of this tragedy is an inspiration of that strength and that hope.”
Rev. Keane then asked the community and the priests to join him in singing “You Will Never Walk Alone,” from the show Carousel. He thanked everyone for coming out on cold Sunday night.
“Our candles will at some time be extinguished but your light need not be. Please bring your light, your love, your affection, your appreciation out into our community and out into our world. May the Lord bless you and keep you,” he said.
The idea for the vigil began in Enfield when a resident named Audrey D (she did not want her last name used) sought to get the word out to each of Connecticut’s 169 cities and towns to hold a vigil across the state. She told the Eagle she is now unemployed and wanted to work on a project that would help people.
Trista Milici, (pictured) the first selectman’s executive assistant, was able to forward her request to nearly all 169 towns. She said that as of last Friday about 19 towns said they would participate and others may have. Many towns had previously held vigils.