On Dec. 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and killed 20 young children and six faculty members, after he shot his mother while she slept, before taking his own life.

The horror of the act stunned the nation, and pushed legislators in Connecticut and other states to pass new laws restricting or banning the sale of military-style guns and large-capacity magazines.

Last Friday, a small group of town officials and residents gathered in Lounsbury House at 9:15 a.m. to mourn and remember on the sixth anniversary of that bloody day.

“There’s an empty space in the hearts of those people who have lost children and their brothers and sisters,” to “this plague that we call gun violence in this country,” said Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, an organization that advocates for tighter gun laws.

The day holds special meaning for Stein — he was once a first-responder in Sandy Hook, his wife’s hometown.

“Since Sandy Hook there have been 163,000 Americans killed by gun violence,” Stein said to the crowd of about 35 residents, town officials, and one dog in the front room of the Lounsbury House.

“In Connecticut alone, there have been more than 1,400 gun deaths,” Stein said.

A gun took the life of one of his own family members.

“My uncle killed himself with a gun,” he said.

A few minutes before the vigil began in Ridgefield, a bomb threat was reported by staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The school was evacuated and police were called to investigate the threat.

Compassion

First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who opened the meeting with brief remarks before turning the lectern at the head of the room over to Stein, urged residents to reach out with compassion to their neighbors.

“As we’re here today remembering those who did survive, and the families and loved ones, I hope that you think about being a little bit more compassionate … Instead of thinking ‘you know what I should do?’ — do it,” said Marconi.

His remarks echoed a speech he made during an interfaith vigil on Oct. 29 to honor the victims killed in a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

“When the thought comes to you, take that action. Listen … listen to what people are saying to you. Try and understand it. Feel that pain. And then act, act to help lift them out of that pain,” he said.

Call to action

Stein called for action to support stricter gun laws.

“These survivors that I’ve met, they’re not only sad, they’re not only heroes to me, but they’re angry,” Stein said. “They’re angry that the country has done little to nothing to change our gun laws on a national scale.”

He said the state needs to pass new laws that will outlaw so-called ghost guns — firearms, including AR-15 style rifles, that are built at home without a manufacturer’s serial number — and a law that would strengthen the rules governing how guns are stored in the owner’s home.

“We’ve done great things in Connecticut but the country needs to do more. The laws that we have in Connecticut, we need to have those laws in every state,” Stein said.

Activist town

While the town has mostly been spared the worst tragedies of gun violence, Ridgefield’s community has repeatedly rallied and protested against gun violence over the past year.

In March and April, students at the high school staged two walkouts in response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The second walkout on April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting — was part of a national campaign organized by Ridgefielder Lane Murdock.

Less than two weeks after Congregation Shir Shalom held its interfaith vigil in October for victims in Pittsburgh, about 50 residents gathered at the corner of Main Street and Bailey Avenue on Nov. 8 to hold a vigil for the 12 people killed the day before in a mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

After Stein spoke, he turned the microphone over to Cantor Deborah Katchko Gray of Congregation Shir Shalom, who sang a memorial song for those gathered — “Tree of Life,” by Doni Zasloff and Eric Lindberg.

The song was written in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, she told those gathered.

“These names of our towns are becoming synonymous with gun violence, instead of winning the state championship,” said Stein.

Stein asked those gathered to hold a moment of silence for those lost. As the townspeople bowed their heads, he struck a brass bell on the podium 26 times — once for each of the lives lost at Sandy Hook.