Tuesday evening vigil commemorates the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary
Last modified: Dec. 18
Flags are being flown at half-staff across Ashe County, the state and the rest of the country in the wake of a tragic elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn that claimed the lives of 27 children and adults last week.
Despite being separated by hundreds of miles, residents of West Jefferson gathered together Tuesday evening to voice their love and support for the victims lost in last Friday's violence.
“Everybody feels so much sorrow and grief for these people who have lost their kids,” said Gwynita Steele who helped organize the vigil. “We just felt like we needed to do something.”
At 5 p.m. in front of West Jefferson Town Hall, more than 60 Ashe County residents gathered to remember the children and adults lost at Sandy Hook Elementary by lighting candles and sharing in a brief ceremony led by West Jefferson Alderman Stephen Shoemaker and West Jefferson United Methodist Church Pastor Dr. Peter Taylor.
Taylor reminded the crowd that despite the presence of evil in our world, there is also good.
“We see it every day in the smile of our children, in the people of the community that came together to help one another, and the countless acts of charity performed every day here in Ashe County,” said Taylor. “It's through these acts of kindness that we see God in each and every one of you. You are God's hands and feet.”
“We are all touched by the shooting of innocent children and adults in Newtown, Conn. Friday,” said Steele. “A lot is going on this week and many are very busy with their own families, but let's keep these sorrowful families in our hearts as we go through this blessed season.”
On Friday, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue joined President Barack Obama in ordering flags lowered at state facilities in tribute to the 27 children and adults killed. Twenty of those victims were children and six were adults shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School before the suspected gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, took his own life, according to authorities. A separate victim, identified as Lanza's mother, was also found shot dead at home in Newtown.
The worst ever shooting at an U.S. elementary school, Friday's violence is second in victims to only the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, which left 33 people dead, including the gunman.
“We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” Obama said on Friday. “And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would - as a parent.And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”
“The majority of those who died (Friday) were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers — men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.
“So, our hearts are broken today — for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.”
During Monday's Ashe County Board of Commissioners meeting, County Commissioner Gary Roark offered his thoughts and said he'd like to remember the, “12 little girls and eight little boys that were slaughtered in that classroom.”
“It's just something that I can't imagine,” said Roark. “In the future, I'd like to take a look at our school system and if there is anyway, anything we can do to ensure more protections for these kids, then we should do it, regardless of the cost. The children deserve our protection. They were given to us by the good Lord and its our obligation to protect them. Keep these families in your prayers over the holidays. You can't imagine what they're going through at this time.”
“This is probably the most horrible imaginable thing that a parent can go through,” said Ashe County Commissioner William Sands on Dec. 17. “I know here in the county with the Sheriff's office, law enforcement, rescue squad...this is always on our minds as a possibility. You never know when and where something like this can happen.”
“I know we have a number of times through the years trained over at the high school with state instructors, and gone through scenarios of similar situations...but you go through there, and the lights are off and you hear a shot or a scream and you just have cold chills come all over you even though you know it's not real,” said Sands. “I can't even imagine what went on up there and the horror of it, and the effect it's had on so many people.”