Gathering remembers Sandy Hook victims, vows to fight gun violence
Young lives lost — kids six and seven robbed of their futures, taken from their families, by a madman with a gun — were remembered by a gathering of about 50 people in Ridgefield Town Hall on Saturday, Dec. 14, the seventh anniversary of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown.
“Our lives changed that day,” said Peter Murchison.
A Ridgefielders, Murchison lost a nephew in the Sandy Hook Tragedy. He was one of line-up of speakers that was mostly politicians: from U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal to State Rep. John Frey, First Selectman Rudy Marconi, State Rep. Ken Gucker, State Senator Julie Kushner and one other non-politician, Jeremy Stein, a Ridgefielder who heads Connecticut Against Gun Violence and organized Saturday’s “gathering of hope and remembrance” on the Sandy Hook anniversary.
Murchison nephew, Daniel Barden, who was among the young students murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School — killed at age seven.
The big family he and his wife are part of pulled together to help Daniel’s family get through the events.
“That first week is really a blur,” he said. “So many funerals.”
The nation responded, too, trying to help when there was nothing to be done, really.
”There were thousands of pieces of mail that came, angel jewelry, hundreds of teddy bears,” Murchison said. “And we all had giant holes in our hearts.”
Seven years have passed since the shooting in 2012.
“As time goes by you think things will be better, but they’re not — because you’re thinking about where he’d be now,” Murchison said.
“I think the holes in our hearts are bigger.”
Murchison spoke from the hole in his heart on politics and policy.
“In American we have guns pretty much everywhere,” he said. “It may be in the BIll of Rights, but it’s not a good idea.”
“We have work to do,” he said.
He spoke of “an unwritten op-ed” he has in mind, headlined “Sandy Hook knocked us off our feet, but the Parkland kids got us off our asses,”
Even with the lack of progress on some major issues, there are things that can be done, and good people doing what they can.
Murchison said he is a Quaker and attends the Quaker Meeting in Wilton, which had just sponsored a gun buy-back in Norwalk.
After the police are done taking down the registration numbers, he said, the Quakers have plans for the guns they bought back.
“We’re going to make them into garden tools,” he said. “We’re going to beat them into plowshares.”
Rep. Frey’s sister
Like Murchison Ridgefield State Rep John Frey is an uncle of Sandy Hook students.
He shared his personal perspective on the tragedy, a view shaped by the fact his sister and brother-in-law live in Newtown, and their kids went to Sandy Hook School — escaping with their lives, but also with frightening memories that will always be with them.
Frey recalled being in the Sandy Hook School the night before the tragedy, attending a school holiday concert his sister had invited him to.
“It was just a great evening,” he said. ”It was a great way to start the holiday season — all those fourth graders singing.”
He remembered standing a few feet from Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was among those killed in the shooting spree.
“I looked at all the families,” Frey said, “all the siblings running around…
“The world came crashing down the next morning on that community.”
“I got a text from my sister the next morning: ‘Something’s going on at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Can you find out about it?’ ”
His sister drove toward the school, and came across five first graders running up the street.
She stopped them and asked what why they weren’t in school.
“Some guy’s trying to kill us,” they said. She took them in her car.
“She called the school — no answer,” Frey said.
“She goes to the police department and they ask my sister to stay with the five kids,” Frey said.
“So she sings them Christmas songs to them — not yet knowing the fate of her own kids.”
She got a text from a friend saying someone had seen her kids — they were safe.
“She wears a bracelet with the names of the five kids, that their parents gave her,” Frey said.
In the wake of the tragedy Frey was involved in Hartford’s response.
“The bill we did in Hartford after Sandy Hook focused on three issues: guns, obviously; school security; and mental health,” Frey said.
He added, “We’ve cut the funding for mental health since then.”
Restoring that funding will be a priority.
Gucker: People’s burdens
State Rep. Ken Gucker, whose Danbury-based district includes a slice of northern Ridgefield, spoke of some of the people involved in the events of that terrible day, who still carry burdens.
“Friends and family I grew up with were definitely affected that day,” he said. ”Every year that goes by, they have a hard time dealing with it.”
One of the unsung heroes of the day was a janitor who worked helping get kids out of harm’s way.
“This gentleman did this selflessly, without concern for his own safety, and in the end just kind of disappeared,” Gucker said.
A friend of Gucker’s was an emergency services worker duties brought into Sandy Hook school after the shooting.
“To this day he’s a wreck,” Gucker said. “He had to leave his job. It haunts him.”
Gucker said he’d worked on a “safe storage” gun law and receoved “hate mail” from opponents: “You’re taking away our rights!”
“I’m sorry,” Gucker said. “I don’t think I’m taking away your rights because I require you to lock up your gun when you leave it in your car.”
He said there is still political work to be done. It’s not just a job for politicians, they need support from everyday people.
“We need you all to stand up, when all these things come up,” he said. “...We’re still pushing for universal background checks, still working for mental health.”
“Let’s give our children their childhood back,” Gucker said. “Let’s give our teachers the joy of teaching back…”
Marconi: Make a difference
“Words cannot express the feelings we all have this morning as we think about what happened at Sandy Hook that day,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
The tragedy at Sandy Hook, and the series of senseless shootings that it is part of — Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando — have changed the nation and the way Americans lead their lives, Marconi said.
“It is something that has had a profound impact,” he said.
Even a town like Ridgefield, that seems nestled in safety and security, all kinds of policies and practices have been adopted to protect against horrific potential scenarios that, not many years ago, didn’t even seem remotely possible.
“We have to check the garbage cans before every Memorial Day parade,” Marconi said.
He urged people to get involved, consider what they can do to make a difference in the fight against gun violence.
“Think about all those children,” Marconi said. “Not just in Sandy Hook, but across America.”
Haskel: Youth’s issue
Will Haskel, the 20-somethign state senator who represents Ridgefield and neighboring towns, spoke as a young person himself.
“No one in my generation chose this issue,” he said.”...The issue chose us.”
He said young students still in school tell him they have trouble focusing on their studies in class.
“They’re consumed by fear and the thought of where they can hide,” he said.
The nation’s leader need to do more.
“We have failed as policy-makers,” Haskel said.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, came by early and a spoke at the very start of the event.
In a posting on Twitter later Saturday, Blumenthal saod: “Our hearts still ache. The pain remains real. Seven years have passed. But the unspeakable horror of that day still haunts us. The courage and resilience of the Sandy Hook families and community — their decency and dignity — continue to inspire us.
“We can honor those 26 beautiful lives by taking action to stop the epidemic of gun violence. This senseless scourge can be abated through common sense steps favored by overwhelming majorities of Americans — emergency risk protection orders, universal background checks, and etc. Congress’ inaction makes it complicit in the bloodshed.
“Another year should not pass without real action to honor Sandy Hook familes and countless others cross the country gieving for gun violence victims -- in Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas and elsewhere. A political movement is coalescing and it cannot be denied historic reform.”
At the Ridgefield gathering Madelyn Aug, a young woman from Sandy Hook who is a student at Western Connecticut State University, sang the song Rise Up by Andra Day.
“All we need, all we need is hope, and for that we have each other… we will rise.. We’ll rise up, rise like the waves, we’ll rise up, in spite of the ache, we will rise up, and do it a thousand times.”
State Senator Julie Kushner if Danbury’s 24th district spoke.
“I live in DAnbury, and all three of my children know someone who died that day,” she said.
She described growing up in a household that didn’t have any guns.
“I grew up in a world without guns,” she said.”it was a rich world, and an exciting world. I didn’t feel I missed anything.”
She too felt the time to take on the issue of guns in America.
“Things change. We evolve. The world evolves,” she said.
ANd then Sen. Kushner closed the Saturday morning gathering in Ridgefileld with a reading of the names and ages of Sandy Hook victims: Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal; Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher; Lauren Rousseau, 30, teacher, Mary Sherlach, 56 school psychologist; Victoria Leigh Soto, 27, teacher.”
Then came the kids: “Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chas Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; James Mattiloi, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6.”
People in the audience sniffled and searched out tissues to dray their eyes.