Before tackling the state’s budget deficit Wednesday night, Connecticut’s lawmakers and officials took some time to pay tribute to the victims of last week’s shootings in Newtown.
The legislature was to convene in special session to vote on a bill to close the projected $365 million budget shortfall. But first they held a memorial for the 26 children and educators who were killed last Friday when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown opened up the memorial service saying the victims’ families have made it clear they didn’t vote for all the politicians who have helped in Newtown, but they’re grateful they were there.
Rep. Chris Lyddy, D-Newtown, who didn’t seek re-election, thanked the public and lawmakers for their thoughts and prayers, which he said have served as strength and support.
Lyddy said the massacre by the gunman was not just an assault on the physical body, “but an assault on the psychological and the spiritual core of who we are as a people and how we define our humanity. In the days, weeks, and years to come Newtown will define itself, not by the evil this man brought to our town, but more importantly by the legacy of those we lost and the incredible character of our community.
“We in this room are Newtown,” Lyddy said. “A town that possesses the most incredible traits that bring people together: faith, family, and friendship. In the end, to me, not much more matters.”
He urged his colleagues to take inventory of what matters and “who we are as a people.”
Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who also represents Newtown, said Lyddy, who once interned for him, was a comforting presence in the town Friday. McKinney also said there are still stories about what happened that day that haven’t been told.
He said there was a teacher who walked into an administrator’s office and forced open a small window and when all but one of the adults couldn’t fit through, he went back and hid with her so that when the gunman came to the room he didn’t see anyone. McKinney also spoke about a librarian who hid the children in a back room and kept them quiet with paper and crayons.
McKinney praised the leadership of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and President Barack Obama, who spoke at an interfaith vigil in Newtown on Sunday.
“Having the president of the United States in our town and speaking such incredible words, I thought not as a president but as father — I want you to know how extraordinarily important that was to the healing process for the people in town and probably the people of our nation,” he said.
Malloy, who took up the delicate task of informing the families of the victims of the tragic news when it seemed no one else would, said the state had turned to faith to help cope and heal. At times during the service the governor appeared on the verge of tears.
Though mass shootings have happened all over the world, Malloy said no one ever expected such a tragedy to strike Connecticut. He highlighted the heroism of the six school teachers and administrators who died.
“We lost those heroines on that day as we lost our innocence that this trouble would never come our way and as we lost our profound futures represented by those 20 young children,” Malloy said.
Rep. Debra Hovey, a Republican from neighboring Monroe, said the strength of the victims’ families has been remarkable.
“From their strength, we as a community are going to be better,” she said.
Hovey also came with a message for the news media. In the aftermath of the shooting news organizations from around the world have sent reporters to Newtown. Hovey said enough was enough.
“The people of my communities have asked that I ask the press to please leave our towns,” Rep. Debra Hovey, R-Monroe, said. “The story is over. The families are burying their loved ones. Their memories are their keepsakes and we as a community need to grieve” and then “begin the long road to healing.”
The service concluded with Weiss, who McKinney referred to as “Father Bob,” reading the names of the victims one by one. As he spoke, their names and ages appeared on the Hall of the House of Representatives’ vote scoreboard. Most were six or seven years old.
Christine Stuart contributed to this report