Newtown, Conn. • A vigil Friday night for the victims of a school massacre in western Connecticut brought out hundreds of community members, including some parents who were struggling with mixed emotions after their own children survived the massacre.
With the church filled to capacity, hundreds spilled outside, some of them holding hands in circles and saying prayers. Others lit prayer candles and sang “Silent Night.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was among the speakers at the service inside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic church.
“Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason,” Malloy said.
The residents were gathered to mourn those killed Friday, when a man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the elementary school where she taught, massacring 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.
The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.
At the vigil, the priest said the altar holds 26 candles, all of which were lit in memory of the victims. Lyrics of the last hymn of the ceremony rang out: “I will raise him up on eagle’s wings.”
The parish priest, Robert Weiss, said he spent much of Friday with victims of the families but he could not give them any answers about what happened.
After receiving word of the shooting, Tracy Hoekenga said at the vigil that she was paralyzed with fear for her two boys, fourth-grader C.J. and second grader Matthew.
“I couldn’t breathe. It’s indescribable. For a half an hour, 45 minutes, I had no idea if my kids were OK,” she said.
She said she was wrestling with many emotions as she attended the vigil.
Her son Matthew said a teacher ordered students to their cubbies and a police officer came and told them to line up and close their eyes.
“They said there could be bad staff. So we closed our eyes and we went out. When we opened our eyes, we saw a lot of broken glass and blood on the ground.”
David Connors, the father of three triplets at the school, said at a vigil that his children were taken into a closet during the lockdown.
“My son said he did hear some gunshots, as many as 10,” he said. “The questions are starting to come out. ‘Are we safe? Is the bad guy gone?’”
Associated Press writer John Christoffersen contributed to this report.