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Solidarity, Unity in Connecticut and Around the World

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The faint glow of candles in the darkness showed somber expressions everywhere, the signs of sorrow shared by women, men and children, of every race. Mothers held their children close.

The emotions that brought 100 people to West Hartford United Methodist Church Saturday evening were shared by people around the state, the nation and the world, as news of the death of 20 innnocent first-graders sank into the hearts of people in every time zone.

Vigils, online expressions of sorrow, offers of help from funeral directors and tributes of all kinds — including helmet decals and ribbons in Sunday's NFL games — rose up around the world Saturday.

In Stratford, hundreds joined family members of murdered teacher Victoria Soto and the other victims, in a gathering on the town green. Some showed up in formal attire, others in sweatpants and baseball caps.

Thoughout the half-hour ceremony, they shared a somber silence. Two or three took cellphone pictures, but otherwise the group stood almost unmoving the entire time. At one point between songs by a school choir, the entire Green seemed utterly silent except for the beeping of a satellite TV news truck backing a lot the nearby street

The West Hartford candlelight vigil brought about 50 church members and another 50 people from around the area as they struggled with the horror of the mass killings in Newtown.

"Lord God Almighty, we come before you with heavy hearts," the Rev. Rick Hanse said, and in the pause that followed, the only sound was people sniffling.

He admitted that he had no answers for why the shootings happened.

"I'm sorry, I don't get how an elementary school …" he said, unable to finish his sentence.

But even as he struggled to make sense of a world where a young man kills 20 first-graders and seven adults, he tried to console the people before him, reminding them that God's love is stronger than death.

And at the end of the service, as the lights came back on, Hanse said, "Go knowing that you are never alone."

Brittany Cox, 24, of Windsor, began to walk out with her University of Hartford classmate Kelly McCormack, tears still falling from her reddened eyes.

Cox said she cries when she hears details on the radio. She cried during all the hymns, which were accompanied by teenagers with candy-colored hair playing the drums and guitar. She cried while they were studying Saturday afternoon.

"I don't know why I'm so emotional," she said. "I don't even know anyone [who died in Newtown]."

Church member Josie Roy of West Hartford attended the vigil with her husband, Gary, and their son Evan, 9.

"Because I have two small children, it affected us pretty much to our core," Josie Roy said. Their 11-year-old son is camping this weekend with his Boy Scout troop, and they both had to take a deep breath to let him go away.

Hanse, the minister, has an 8-year-old son. As he picked him up Friday, he chanted to himself: "Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry."

"It took me 'til this afternoon to get the courage to tell him" about what happened in Newtown, he said.

Suzy Rivera, a church member from Farmington, has an adult daughter who's a teacher in Wethersfield. She said she was moved by the dozens of strangers who came to pray with her congregation Saturday night.

"I think there's a need across the state, across the country, to gather when we're hurting, when we're scared."

There were vigils around the state, and around the country — in places also scarred by mass shootings, like Aurora, Colo., and the Sikh temple in Wisconsin — but in many, many more with no direct connection to Newtown.

Among the many vigils scheduled around the country and in Connecticut, some were religious, some political.

In Sunday's football games, the New York Giants planned to put decals on their helmets and the New England Patriots were to wear ribbons.

The Googlehome page had a single candle below the search box, and when a cursor hovered over it, the message appeared: "Our hearts are with the families and community of Newtown, Connecticut."

There were expressions of solidarity around the world. A display of crosses on a beach in Brazil. Tweets in German, Italian, French and Spanish, expressing their grief and dismay at the murders.

A few children gathered in Karachi with a poster written in block letters in English: "Connecticut School Killing V Feel Ur Pain As U Would Feel Our Pain." Twelve candles burned on the sidewalk in front of their sign.

V stands for "we" because in India and Pakistan, they have trouble distinguishing the "v" and "w" sounds. But no matter the language, the grief was the same.

Roy said, "It's comforting to know we all share it. No matter the differences we have within each other, we still want to be here for each other."

Courant Staff Writer Don Stacom contributed to this story

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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