I went to Sandy Hook a few this this week to view the memorials and photograph the event so individuals who could not travel there could get a glimpse of the magnitude of tributes coming from far and wide. What I observed was touching and beautiful.
Even though vehicle traffic was high and many people were walking around, including media, everyone was respectful and friendly. Many people are seen carrying flowers and teddy bears to place them at one of the many growing memorials and to pay their respects. At the same time people were of course deeply saddened and shocked by what happened last Friday. There were similar reactions from many, they shook their heads in disbelief. As soon as you see how large the memorials have grown, the depth of feeling in this situation is visually right in front of you. You soon see how the world wants to show its compassion.
As you enter Newtown, if you pass the famous large flagpole on Route 25 at the top of Church Hill Road, you will see the American flag at half mast, a rare sight, and we hope we never have to see it that way again, for any reason. Continuing the drive down Church Hill Road you will see various memorials on private property and also signs attached to fences along the roadside and bridges. Twenty six angels on the left, twenty six miniature Christmas trees on the right, and more sentiments along the way.
The center of Sandy Hook is where the large town tree is decorated and it quickly turned into a memorial. There are hundreds, perhaps by now a few thousand, items left under that big tree. Someone made numerous white origami decorations and hung them from the bottom of the tree, reminding one of weeping willow tree branches or bird's wings. Just beautiful.
Countless candles burn in front of the tree on the sidewalk. On one recent drizzly, rainy day these were being re-lit by young men from Stratford Ct, because the rain had put the flame out. The young man lighting the candles told me they do this in shifts, making sure the candles stay lit, just because they want to do that. The second shift was getting coffee just then, he said.
Various signs were placed among the items as well as tacked to poles and fences and on sandwich boards in front of businesses. Messages such as "Pray for our victims, town and country" and "Do not be overcome by life but overcome evil with good" and "Together we are strong."
You could not miss the flag with all the victims' names tacked to it, further up the street. It too was surrounded by items people had left. They used a poster that normally memorializes soldiers of war but replaced the words "This flag is to honor those killed in (location of war) with "Sandy Hook Elementary School" for the location.
People also came to Sandy Hook to bring comfort to other people. A group of women were there with their golden retrievers, lead by Ann Marie Cioffi, She said they were not part of any group, they all just loved that breed of dog and decided to come to Sandy Hook so the dogs could bring pleasure to others.
There is another group in town that are official therapy dogs, also retrievers, from the Canine Comfort Dog Ministry. They go wherever there is a need, to spread love. Each dog has a name labeled on the back the vest they wear, to make the interaction even more personal between a dog and person. I saw how these dogs bring peace to an ongoing grieving situation.
I also met a woman who decided to bring her two chocolate labrador retrievers with her and was enjoying the interaction with others, that friendly dogs bring, as she had the same aim of bringing comfort.
A photographer from Pittsburg Pa. drove to Sandy Hook to deliver a unique memorial he created. It was two bouquets of white rosebuds with a poem he wrote. He tacked the two bouquets and two copies of the poem onto two separate poles. The flowers looked real but were made of wood, upon which he then placed a portrait of 5 children and 4 adults individually on each, of the victims. He said all the names were not released at the time he made the art, so he plans on adding the other portraits/flowers soon. He preferred not to give his name, although he did not mind being photographed. He said he applied the portraits using a finger nail decorating kit he had ordered.
I noticed two women and a young girl because they were holding the most unusual dark pink miniature bouquet of roses. They were walking around trying to decide where to place the pretty flowers they had brought. I later saw them kneeling in front of framed art someone else had made, artwork was a heart made out of child's handprints that read, "We Won't Forget You Sandy Hook Elementary." They placed each rose down gently as they said the name of each victim. They then bowed their heads, and when they were done they hugged. Another two women meticulously arranged candles to form a heart shape, near the big tree.
I walked up the hill to the Sandy Hook School entrance where the largest memorial was. Twenty-six decorated trees lined the road, placed there by the Newtown Fire Department. There is a star on each tree with a victim's name, and numerous stuffed teddy bears, flowers, photos, hearts, ornaments and other items. The mood is somber and people stand in silence to honor those lost.
A man stood by one tree holding a box of miniature poinsettias. He was following another man as the second man took a plant from the box and gently placed one plant under each tree.
Many state troopers and police are still present in the town in volume, directing people and traffic and keeping things safe.
Seeing the beautiful memorials people left there, you can see how communities from all locations want to show their compassion and how this tragedy is so far reaching.
Now funerals are happening almost daily, up the hill at St. Rose of Lima Church and other places of worship, hard to comprehend how many people were lost, and how young, and that it happened here.
I am proud to have Newtown and Sandy Hook as neighbors to Bethel. This community has come together in the only way they know how, with love. Let's hope the families of the victims find peace and that this crime never happens again.