From the steepled churches of Newtown, Conn., to the state Capitol in Hartford, bells chimed 26 times Saturday to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which sparked a debate on gun laws that continues to divide the nation.
While the small New England city marked the one-year anniversary of its tragedy, residents of Centennial, Colo., more than 1,500 miles away, were beginning to deal with their own school shooting. One teenager was in critical condition and the teenage shooter was dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after opening fire at Arapahoe High School there on Friday.
There have been more than 20 school shootings in the United States since Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook school on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 first-graders and six school employees. Lanza, 20, who had already shot dead his mother, Nancy, in their Newtown home, then committed suicide in the school.
As snow fell over Newtown, the bells began ringing at 9:30 a.m., the time that Lanza entered the school. At the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, each chime was accompanied by the reading of a victim's name.
Newtown officials and residents have appealed for privacy, and the city said it would not hold a public memorial out of respect for victims' survivors and others who do not want to be reminded of what happened.
But the Colorado shooting catapulted Sandy Hook into the nation's collective memory, and Sandy Hook Promise, an organization formed in Newtown in the aftermath of its massacre, lamented the stream of school shootings in the last year.
"We were horrified to hear today of a school shooting ... just one day before the one-year mark of the Sandy Hook shootings," the group's executive director, Tim Makris, said in a statement after the Centennial shooting. "It's time to start a new conversation to protect our children."
In Washington, President Obama, whose effort to pass stricter federal laws after Sandy Hook failed, paid tribute to Newtown parents who have battled for changes in gun laws that permit high-capacity magazines and the purchase of weapons without universal background checks.
"Over the past year, their voices have sustained us," Obama said in his weekly address. But he said the rest of the country needed to do more to prevent future shootings, and he warned that Newtown could be any town.
"Newtown is a town like so many of our hometowns," said Obama. "The victims were educators and kids that could have been any of our own."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered flags flown at half-staff in observance of the Sandy Hook anniversary and urged people to mark the day by performing an act of kindness. "The message of these two actions is simple: a moment to come together and mourn, followed by acts of kindness to one another," Malloy said.
Jim Rousseau, father of first-grade teacher Lauren Rousseau, who was killed at Sandy Hook, echoed the thought.
"Acts of kindness and efforts to promote just cause are the best way to keep the memory of victims of gun violence alive," Rousseau, clutching a photograph of his daughter, said during a Washington, D.C., vigil for gun violence victims last week at the National Cathedral.
Some victims' parents posted videos to remember their children, describing them as fun-loving, energetic first-graders whose deaths should serve as catalysts for change.
"Dylan was a very happy little boy," Nicole Hockley said of her son, Dylan, who was 6 when he was killed at Sandy Hook. "We'll never know what he might have been or what he might have contributed to society. That's why I'm here talking about him. To ensure in this way, in some way, Dylan remains alive and his name and image are associated with the promises that we make to build a safer future."
The mother of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, Nelba Marquez-Greene, said her daughter "sang before she spoke, and danced before she walked."
One of the family's favorite things, Marquez-Greene said, was to make music together. "Our life now is trying to make sense of having a trio, and not a quartet."
Daniel Barden's father, Mark Barden, described his son's empathy for everything from tiny bugs to his classmates at Sandy Hook.
"He would pick up ants from the kitchen and carry them outside to reconnect them with their families. He would pick up worms from the driveway and rescue them from the sun," Barden said. "He had a way of noticing if someone or something was vulnerable. He was just compelled to go comfort that person."
"I choose to honor Daniel’s life by sharing his love and his joy with everyone I can," Barden said.
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