A Sunday remembrance of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings proved an emotional gathering over the tragic losses a year earlier -- but one where hope for a less-violent future was celebrated as well.
Fairfielders gathered for the Sandy Hook commemoration at First Church Congregational, where the observance was moved from Sherman Green in the wake of the weekend snowstorm. The event was organized by town officials and the Fairfield Clergy Association.
"It's not only remembering the victims of Newtown, but it's also remembering and honoring all the victims of violence in our country and in our world," said the Rev. Matthew Calkins of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church. "And trying to build a world with less violence for our children. That's what it's all about."
The hour-long observance, which featured musical accompaniment on acoustic guitar by Beth Bradley, was conducted in three parts. Attendees were each given three glowstick candles, which they placed at the altar first for Newtown, then for victims of violence across the United States, and finally those fallen around the world.
Several town and clergy officials shared their thoughts on the grim anniversary, including First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who recently had lunch with Newtown's First Selectman Patricia Llodra, and told the gathering about her request that the one-year anniversary be observed quietly.
"Don't make too big a deal about all this, but in remembrance, try to do a random act of kindness," Llodra has said, according to Tetreau.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara told the crowd about traveling to Sandy Hook Elementary School after he and other law-enforcement officials in the region were alerted about the shootings on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012.
"There was a dichotomy of emotions," he said, with terrified parents rushing to the school to try to find their children.
"What I was witnessing was life interrupted," he said, speaking of the anguish of those coming to and from the adjacent Sandy Hook firehouse, where children were reunited with parents -- while others learned they would never again be reunited with their child.
He said he and other officers are often asked about how they cope with witnessing such tragic events on a daily basis. "We take our heart and put it in our locker, so that when we experience other people's lives interrupted, we can do what we have to do," he said.
Of the debate over gun control and gun rights, MacNamara said, "The conversation really is none of us want life interrupted."
"Anything we can do collectively to prevent people from being victims is important, because we're trying to keep people's lives from being interrupted," he said.
"Today is really about remembering and looking forward," said Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, "and looking forward.
"It's about a message of hope and what can we do," she said.