Town Heals and Remembers

WATCH: Families of Newtown Victims Offer Touching Tribute

A year after a schoolhouse shooting left 28 dead, the small town of Newtown is "broken" but healing, officials said.

Monday, Dec 9, 2013  |  Updated 7:07 PM EDT
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The families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims will mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy by lighting candles to honor their loved ones.

The families of the Sandy Hook school shooting victims will mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy by lighting candles to honor their loved ones.

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Families of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre appeared together Monday to make a brief but moving joint statement asking that America mark the approaching anniversary of the attack by performing acts of kindness and volunteering for charities in their hometowns.

"We hope that some measure of good may be returned to the world," they said.

The statement, read aloud by two red-eyed Newtown mothers in halting voices, concluded with relatives announcing their intent to light a candle on the eve of the anniversary in honor of the loved one they lost.

It started with with JoAnn Bacon, whose daughter was killed and who read the last half of the joint statement.

"I'd like to add that our family will be lighting a candle on the eve of 12-14, the last night we spent with our sweet Charlotte."

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Then 13 more family members — representing about half of the shooting's victims — stepped up to say who they'd be lighting a candle for that night:

"Our beautiful girl, Jessica," Jesse, "our daughter, Emily," "my mom, Dawn Hochsprung," "our older sister, Victoria,"  "my sweet boy, Jack," "our beautiful girl, Grace," "our gorgeous daughter, Avielle," "our beautiful daughter, Ana," "our sweet son, Daniel," "my daughter, Lauren," Chase, "our irrepressible Benny."

The group slowly walked away, passing beneath a banner inscribed with the names of each of the 20 children and six educators killed on Dec. 14, 2012, when gunman Adam Lanza burst into the school and opened fire before turning a gun on himself. The names on the banner were shaped in a heart, with the the phrase "Always in our hearts" underneath.

The families said that they were all grieving in deeply unique and personal ways, but wanted to allow others to share remembrances of the victims and communicate with each other. So they created a website, My Sandy Hook Family.

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"This will be a singular place for sharing, communication and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day," said Krista Rekos, whose daughter, Jessica, was killed in the shooting. "MySandyHookFamily.org allows us the opportunity to honor those who were taken from us so violently."

Early in the day, officials in Newtown said they were trying to make the approaching anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as uneventful as possible, urging media to stay away and asking people to focus on performing "acts of kindness" in their everyday lives instead of descending on their small town and triggering bad memories.

"We are trying to respect the world's interest in us, but we also have a real need in our community to gain a foothold," First Selectman Pat Llodra said at the start of a 50-minute press conference meant to satiate intense media demands for comment. "We pay a price when the media is here, because we're a small community."

She and other officials stressed that Newtown was on the first leg of a long journey toward healing, and was in no need of being reminded of the shooting.

"Newtown is cracked," said Matt Crebbin, the senior minister for the Newtown Congregational Church and coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, paraphrasing a lyric by songwriter Leonard Cohen.

"He writes in one song that there's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," Crebbin explained. "I'd say Newtown is cracked. We've been through a devastating experience and yet in the midst of our cracks and our brokenness there is light shining through."

Crebbin noted, for example, that in addition to honoring those who died, his congregation would be baptizing a baby this weekend.

Interim Schools Superintendent John Reed said the district would attempt to have as normal a day as possible on Friday, the day before the anniversary. A majority of students and staff are expected to come to school.

The goal is to "maintain as much as possible the consistency and ebb and flow of the school day," Reed said.

The district has been operating an intense mental health program in which it has monitored the progress of its students — not only those who were in the school at the time of the shooting, but across the entire local system, Reed said. That observation will continue until they graduate high school, he said.

Newtown is in the process of developing a school to replace Sandy Hook Elementary, which was demolished weeks ago. Llodra said there was no plan for a memorial at the new building.

Police Chief Mike Kehoe said there would be an "increased law enforcement presence" in Newtown all weekend to ensure a sense of safety and security. Other than that, "we're going to do what we can to make it a routine day, like any Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

His officers were among the first to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary as the massacre was unfolding. Asked how those officers were doing, Kehoe said the department had "made remarkable gains."

"We're showing a resilience that I expected from a law enforcement agency," Kehoe added. "But I know we have a long road to go."

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