Father Daniel Sullivan thought a long time about what he'd say.
Hours before a memorial service Wednesday for the victims of one of the state's worst mass murders, Sullivan sat, paper and pen in hand, and contemplated the massive task before him.
He searched for words — if such words existed, to sooth the pain of friends and family whose loved ones were chillingly gunned down by an angry co-worker at Hartford Distributors just one day earlier.
He thought back to the countless Masses he's presided over in his 47 years as a priest, and then he offered what he could to the more than a thousand people who packed St. Margaret Mary Church in South Windsor.
He mentioned the dead by name:
Edwin Kennison, Jr.
"Nothing can prepare us for this," Sullivan told those packed into the sanctuary, which at times reverberated with cries.
But he said, "This darkness would not have the last say."
God, he continued, "would never give us a cross that we're not strong enough to handle."
But even he knew that finding strength in such a tragedy would be difficult for those trying to make sense of the sudden and senseless deaths of fathers, brothers, colleagues and friends.
One of the victims, Craig Pepin, was also a parishioner at St. Margaret Mary Church.
A dedicated member, Sullivan recalled, who never missed Sunday Mass.
"He was a good, Christian gentleman," he told me earlier.
"A saint," he told those gathered at the church.
Sullivan wasn't just saying that out of respect for a friend. He meant it, and in his last moments, Pepin showed how deserving he was of such admiration.
Witnesses said that even as Omar Thornton gunned Pepin down, the father of four who had planned on retiring shouted for colleagues to get out.
Some of those colleagues were able to escape. But Pepin was shot dead.
As tragic and personal as the deaths are, Sullivan said, the focus now needs to be on those left behind.
Friends and families — who a day after a gunman's bullets shattered their lives — packed into the church, first filling each of the 77 pews, then lining every inch of the walls, before finally being forced to stand at the entrance or outside.
Inside, Hartford Distributor employees clutched each other, some sobbing uncontrollably.
"It's unbelievable," one woman whispered into a colleague's ear. "I still can't believe it."
"Were you inside?" one man asked another, as he reached across a pew to grab his hand.
"I got out,'' the man said, crying. "I got out."
After the service, they poured out of the church, wives, children and friends still stunned by their collective loss, weighed down by crosses that no one should ever have to bear.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun