Standing huddled together underneath an Evans pavilion, nearly 100 people paid tribute Thursday night to 27 victims of the country’s deadliest elementary school shooting.
Rainfall, heavy at times, didn’t keep some in the community from paying their respects to the young children and adults who died after a gunman opened fire last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Martinez resident Rhonda Kennedy and her three children, ages 5 to 13, attended to lend support and show the Newton community that they “don’t stand alone.”
“It could have been us just as easily as it was anybody else,” she said.
Angel ornaments were hung on the large Christmas tree at Evans Towne Center Park in honor of each shooting victim.
The Rev. Cindy Taylor led the group in prayer before each victim was recognized by name.
“We are the light tonight and we not let the darkness overcome the light,” said Taylor, pastor at Church of the Holy Comforter. “Light and love are stronger than death.”
The most poignant moment of the evening came when Letitie Clark addressed the crowd.
Clark lost her 22-year-old son, Ryan Clark, in the 2007 shooting massacre at Virginia Tech that left 33 students and faculty members dead.
Clark, a 2002 Lakeside High School graduate, was one of the first to be killed as he left his dorm room to help a fellow student arguing with the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui. Clark was a Virginia Tech marching band member and was awaiting graduation with a triple major in biology, English and psychology.
“As a mother who has lost a child to senseless gunfire, my heart aches for the families in Newtown,” an emotional Clark said. “My heart breaks now but not just for now, but for the pain that they’ll go through for many years to come.”
Clark also thanked the community for their continued love and support.
Before reading an emotional poem left by a visitor to her son’s grave in 2007, Clark explained the significance of placing angels on the county’s Christmas tree. The ornaments were made by pupils at Blue Ridge Elementary School, where she works as a paraprofessional.
“I have asked for angels to be placed on our Christmas tree as a form of gesture that Newtown will know that not only do we love them and care about them, but we feel their pain,” she said. “We feel their pain because it is our pain.”
The Riverside Middle School chorus sung Christmas songs and ended the program by singing Let There Be Peace on Earth while many audience members joined in.
A picture also was taken of the group to be sent to Sandy Hook.