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Vermonters Mark Newtown Anniversary With 26 Vigils Across State

Gun Sense Vermont
Participants gather in Woodstock for one of 26 vigils to remember the Sandy Hook shooting.

Saturday was the first anniversary of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 students and six teachers dead.

Vermonters marked the somber day with vigils around the state to honor the victims of this tragic event. In Essex, the vigil had particular meaning, as participants remembered recent shootings in that community.

At the Brownell Library in Essex Junction, a small group of vigil attendees took shelter from the frigid weather and moved their ceremony indoors.

Jud Laurie facilitated the remembrance. Laurie is a member of Gun Sense Vermont, a statewide group that organized 26 vigils in Vermont towns on Saturday- one for each victim at the Sandy Hook elementary school.

Laurie began by leading the group in a reading of the Sandy Hook Promise, a pledge to reduce gun violence. It was written by parents who lost their children in the shooting.

Essex is no stranger to gun deaths, with two memorable shootings in the recent past. A shooting at Essex Elementary School in 2006 claimed the lives of two people, and a stray bullet killed a retired St. Michael’s College professor in his home two years later.

It was with these memories that Essex residents reflected upon the grim reality of what happened in Newtown last year.

The group read aloud the names and ages of the 26 Sandy Hook victims.

With each new name, the group- which included parents and teachers- grew more somber. As the ages six and seven were repeated, some participants bowed their heads and others fought back tears. Laurie rang a bell as each name was read. He ended the ceremony by again ringing the bell 26 times.

No bells rang out for the other two people who died that day: for shooter Adam Lanza or for his mother Nancy Lanza, the first to die at her son’s hand.

Laurie says he’s not sure whether there was discussion about omitting those two names, but says the tragedy started before the shooting.

“The reality is there were pains on both ends of the gun Adam Lanza fired” said Laurie.

Ann Braden is with Gun Sense Vermont, the organization that hosted the vigils around the state and provided programs to the facilitators. She says Gun Sense was created in response to a lack of action to reduce gun violence.

The organization calls for stricter background checks and safe storage regulations, among other measures. She says she hopes Vermonters will be soon be able to debate gun safety.

“I feel like Vermont can be a place where we can have a conversation about what makes sense for Vermont,” said Braden. “We don’t have all of the problems with gun violence that other places do, but we do have some. Getting towards a place where we can have that conversation about what are our problems and how can we address them.”

Braden says she believes significant change in gun safety will have to come from the statehouse. But she says the issue can be a polarizing one in the state.

“If you’re talking about gun safety then you’re anti-gun, if you’re talking about the second amendment then you’re pro gun. It’s not that simple,” said Braden.

But at this gathering, gun legislation was not the focus. This group and others around the state simply met to honor the 28 tragic deaths in Newtown last year.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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