They thought of the 20 six-and seven-year-olds in Connecticut who would never make it to the second grade; they thought of the parents who had to bury their children on Monday.
And the tears on their faces mixed with drops of drizzling rain.
Despite the gloomy weather on Monday night, more than 60 Centerville Elementary School parents and students gathered outside the Ijamsville school for a candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The incident Friday, in which 20 first-grade students and six staff members, were killed, was the second-deadliest school shooting in the country’s history. The shooter, Adam Lanza, also reportedly took his own life after spraying two classrooms with bullets at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The effects of the incident rippled into school districts nationwide, including in Frederick County, as they stepped up security and offered support to families faced with explaining the tragedy to their children.
“I have a first-grader... I just understand,” said Tricia Shuster, as she struggled to control her emotions.
A mother of two Centerville Elementary students, Shuster and her fifth-grader, Rayona, joined a crowd of parents, who came together to remember the victims with songs and prayers.
Holding flickering candles, parents and students gathered around a makeshift memorial, composed of 26 paper angels, each bearing the name of a victim.
Noelle Tate, the Centerville mother who organized the vigil, led the improvised service and read a poem that was written recently in honor of the young victims by Cameo Smith, an author from Pennsylvania.
“‘Twas 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38 when 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven’s gate,” the poem read.
Tate, who has a kindergartener and a 1-year old, said she has been heartbroken since she heard of the tragedy and felt that her community needed a way to mourn the victims.
“This is a community just like ours, it is a school just like ours,” said Tate, who was pleased to see so many people at the vigil.
“It’s good to see that people are not taking this lightly,” she said.
Tate said she wants people to remember the tragedy and find a way to ensure that something like that never happens again.
“I don’t have the answers now, “ she said. “But something has to change.”
Doug Walgren, of Urbana, said he hopes that elected officials take notice of the tragedy and improve health services for people who suffer from mental illnesses. The Connecticut shooting has put mental health in the spotlight because Lanza has been reported to have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome.
“Elected officials need to know that people are concerned and remained concerned about that,” Walgren said.
While Walgren’s children are out of school, he has twins and felt a deep connection to the Pozner family, which lost one of their twin children in the school shooting. While Noah Pozner, 6, was killed in the shooting, his twin sister Arielle survived the attack after her teacher hid her and a few classmates in a bathroom.
“Seeing what happened really breaks my heart,” said Walgren, who came to the vigil with his wife. “We just feel comforted by being out among people who feel the same way.”
Most of the people who came to the vigil on Monday, however, were parents of young children, and many of them brought their children along to the event.
“I think this helps remind children that there is always things that are bigger,” said Jen Johnson, who came to the vigil with her son Nico Zavala, a fifth-grade student.
“This is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Johnson added. “I can’t even imagine how you can begin to process something like this.”
Shuster said she chose to protect her first-grader from news of the shooting, but did talk to her older daughter, Rayona, about the events in Connecticut.
“I spoke with her first because I didn’t want her to hear about it from somebody else,” Shuster said. “I wanted her to understand how to be safe.”
Rayona came to the vigil with her mom and participated by singing “You are My Sunshine.” She chose the song on purpose.
“When you take away someone’s life you take away their happiness,” she said.
“This is horrible,” Rayona said about the shooting. “I don’t know what I would do if that was my little sister.”