Scores of people came to the capital city Friday night to pray and show their support for the grieving families of 20 young children and six adults slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
At Asylum Hill Congregational Church, about 50 people attended a prayer service scheduled just that afternoon.
Senior Minister Matthew Landry said the telephones had been ringing all day in the church office and at his home, with callers expressing a range of emotions: shock, grief, sadness and anger.
"Our first response as Christians is to come together to pray and lift us to those who are suffering so deeply," Landry said before the service. "It's beyond comprehension. I have two kids in elementary school. It totally sets my heart reeling thinking what the parents are going through. We're here for them."
The church's Drew Hall was decorated with the Christmas tree and poinsettias, a stark counterpoint to the reason for the service, which was marked by Scripture readings and hymns. A candle had been lit for each of the 26 victims killed at the school.
Andrea Livingston and Beverly Duncan, both retired West Hartford teachers, traveled to the service from Avon.
"It's been a hard day," Livingston said, stiffening to stifle tears. "We always told them school was a safe place. My heart's broken."
Duncan, a former kindergarten teacher, said she always tried to calm parent's first-day jitters by telling them "to go home and have a cup of coffee. It's a safe place here."
Stephen Gray of Hartford said he had been sitting at home alone, watching the televised reports on the shootings.
"It just got worse and worse," Gray said. "I just had to be with other people and hopefully feel a little better."
Ted and Jane Carroll of Hartford said there was little they could do for those who were suffering in Newtown.
"It's just so sad, so very sad," Jane Carroll said. "We're just sending prayer. There's nothing else we can do — just prayer."
A short time later a crowd of more than 100 gathered to light candles, sing songs and say prayers outside the carousel in Bushnell Park.
"I'm just pretty heartbroken," said Amanda Pepin, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Gia Stanco, with her. "I can't imagine that happening to my child."
When asked if she knew what had happened to the children in Newtown Friday, Gia nodded her head and said, "That's bad."
Because of Friday's shootings, the city canceled that night's Winterfest activities, extended hours for ice skating at the park rink and nighttime rides at the carousel.
The vigil was the idea of Dave Roach, president of Connecticut State Building Trades, who had reached out to Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra earlier in the day.
A tearful Segarra also spoke at the hushed, somber gathering.
He talked of the 20 children, calling them angels with their whole lives ahead of them who were looking forward to the holidays and the next big snowstorm.
"We might not be able to make sense of this today or tomorrow, but it's not impossible for us to come together to show our children that we love them."
Dennis Erk of Southington said he learned of the vigil through social media and wanted to show his support for the victims' families.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun