With green and white ribbons pinned to their shirts and candles in hand, about 200 community members stood on the Pace Athletic and Recreation Association’s football field Wednesday night singing “Silent Night” and bowing their heads in prayer.
Although there was a Christmas tree lit on the field, the gathering wasn’t to celebrate the holidays. The group was taking a moment from their busy lives to remember victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
“We can never imagine the hurt and pain they feel,” Pastor Wayne Blocker of Community of Christ Church of Milton said. “(But we can) continue to pray God’s peace surrounds them now and the days to follow.
“I know they feel our love from this small community to their small community,” he said.
The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., took place more than 1,200 miles away from Pace, but Jason Zdon Sr. of Milton said he wants to see the local community learn from it.
“I woke up Sunday morning and just realized that this needed to be done,” he said.
Zdon said he has never organized anything like the vigil before, but he has found an overflowing support from the community. Wal-Mart donated candles, Home Depot donated a Christmas tree and several friends and family helped spread the word about the event.
As a father of four, basketball coach and Vice President of Football on the PARA Board of Directors, Zdon has many children he holds close to his heart.
“I have four boys … ages 17, 15, 9 and 7 … and I coach basketball. This hit home,” he said. “Being a coach, they’re not just kids I teach, they’re like my own.”
Zdon said he wanted the community to get more out of the vigil.
“If someone needs help, they need to know they can find it in the community. And we also need to look at other people, because not everyone will ask for help,” he said. “We need to realize it’s not just about us.”
Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was the scene of the nation’s second-deadliest shooting in U.S. history on Dec. 14 when a mentally disturbed 20-year-old opened fire on small children, killing 20 between the ages of 6 and 7. Officials say he killed six adults at the school, including the school’s principal and guidance counselor and at least one teacher who protected her students by lying to the shooter. The mother of the shooter was found dead at her home. Some speculate that her plans to have her son committed to a mental health facility might have triggered his anger and lead to the shootings.
The unprecedented killing sparked a national debate on gun control; a visit to the town by President Barrack Obama; a national period of mourning with flags at half-staff across the country; a Facebook page with 316,000 “likes” in less than a week (Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre Memorial Page); and a nationwide sense of community in the loss of young, innocent lives.