They live 50 miles away, but Friday’s shooting tragedy in Newtown that claimed the lives of 28 people, including 20 school children, inspired them to gather in Bushnell Park for a candlelight vigil.
Union leaders organized the vigil and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra canceled Winterfest for the evening and instead invited the community to come to the park to mourn.
As the crowd grew to more than 100 people outside the carousel, Segarra reflected on his day which started with jury duty. He said he was concerned at that hour of the morning that he might miss the holiday party at City Hall.
“As the events of the day unfolded I realized how small of a problem that was,” Segarra said. “The party actually turned into a prayer session for the children and the families lost in today’s tragedy.”
Segarra described the child victims as angels.
“We might not be able to make sense of this today or tomorrow,” he said. “It might be impossible. It might be impossible to understand why these horrific acts happen, but it’s not impossible for us to come together.”
Dave Roche, president of the Connecticut State Building Trades, called for healing as well.
“We know the only way to heal is to come together,” Roche said. “What happened today should never happen anywhere.”
Lori Pelletier, the vice president of the AFL-CIO, also spoke at the vigil. AFL-CIO is an umbrella organization that includes members of AFT Connecticut, the teacher union that represents the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
“No one should go to work and not come home,” Pelletier said.
She asked the mourners to also keep the first responders in their thoughts and prayers.
Hartford Police Chief James Rovello said that when initial reports started coming in, he added extra patrols around city schools. But as the events developed it became obvious it was a targeted incident.
Rovello attended the vigil with several other police officers and Fire Chief Edward Casares Jr.
The names of the victims have not been released, but that didn’t matter to the dozen or so Hartford area residents and law enforcement gathered in the park.
“We have little ones so it’s hard to imagine how any monster could do this,” Efrain Lopez of East Hartford said.
His wife, Charita Lopez, said it’s worse than 9/11. “These were children,” she said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also drew a comparison to 9/11 at a televised briefing Friday night in Newtown.
Malloy said he was mayor of Stamford on 9/11 when his city and the state lost many of its residents to the attack on the World Trade Center.
“I never thought that in a public career I would have to face these kinds of circumstances or that they would visit themselves upon this community or the people of Connecticut,” Malloy said.
Malloy rushed down to Newtown around 11:45 a.m. as soon as he was apprised of the situation. By 6 p.m. there were few words of comfort to offer.
“Evil visited this community today. It’s too early to speak of recovery but each parent, each sibling, each member of the family, has to understand that Connecticut . . . we’re in this together,” Malloy said. “We will get through it.”
How long the investigation will take is anyone’s guess, but Lt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police said at an evening briefing that it’s the department’s policy and protocol to establish positive identification of the victims before making their names public.
“It’s going to take a great deal of time,” Vance said. “The medical examiner has already arrived on the scene and will work very closely with us to expedite that and get it done as efficiently as possible.”
The families of the victims have been assigned a trooper or an officer as a line of communication so that they can be notified as to what is happening without turning on their television screens.
“They will be the first to know if any progress is made as this investigation continues,” Vance said. “We will leave no stone unturned as we’re looking at every facet of this investigation.”
He said the community has been “outstanding” in supporting the victims in this tragedy. Local mental health crisis teams have been on scene most of the day offering their support.
Newtown police received a 911 phone call shortly after 9:30 a.m. and as soon as they arrived at the school they began an active search for the shooter and set up a staging area, Vance said Friday afternoon.
Survivors were ushered to a nearby firehouse where they waited for their parents to come and claim them. Some of the parents of the 20 victims were still at the firehouse Friday evening.