Written by Anthony Moujaes
It was a Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. A normal December morning, until gunshots rang out, causing chaos and panic.By day's end 26 innocent people, most young children, had lost their lives.
One year after the fateful and horrific events of Dec. 14, 2012, the emotional wounds and scars are still fresh for many in the town of 28,000 people. United Church of Christ minister the Rev. Matt Crebbin, pastor of Newtown Congregational Church has become an advocate for stricter gun control legislation in the aftermath of the tragedy, one of many in the state and in the church working for gun reform. But this week is about honoring the lives that were lost with a community still coming to terms with what happened.
"As a pastor, I'm first and foremost focused on how we minister in the time of this anniversary," Crebbin said. "As important the conversation on legislation and gun violence is, I'm not focused upon making that the focus of this anniversary, but recognizing the human cost and supporting people in the community."
A 9 a.m. service at Newtown Congregational Church is scheduled on the 14th, with prayers and reflection with clergy from surrounding communities, and music performed by community youth. "I think our overall message is that we both remember and honor those lost to us, and recognize the impact the event had a year ago," Crebbin said. "A message that in the midst of brokenness and cracks, there is light shining through... There's a crack in everything. That is how light gets in."
The town, however, has no plans for a memorial on the one-year anniversary – no reading of the victim's names, no public ceremony. It seems people are trying to avoid the media circus that encompassed Newtown last year.
National television networks have no plans to send news crews into town; the sight of vans, and satellite trucks are a visible reminder of the shooting.
"We're hopeful we can communicate to folks that the media will have a small footprint in town," Crebbin said. "When there is a media presence, there are folks who won't come out of their homes. We don't know how it will all play out."
Even now, Newtown seeks solace, wondering how such an unspeakable and unfathomable tragedy could take place there. In the previous 10 years, there had only been one homicide in town. On Dec. 14, the loss of 26 people brought grief to the entire town.
Among the lives taken on that dark day, 20 school children between ages 8 and 10. There were also six school administrators and teachers killed in the shooting – two of which, Victoria Soto, 27, and Lauren Rousseau, 30, grew up in the UCC.
Soto's story paints a picture of a brave woman who hid her first grade students in a closet, then threw her body in front of them when the gunman opened fire. The new elementary school being built in that community will bear her name.
"There's so much activity among members of community with regard to creating foundations, or organizing to find ways to respond," Crebbin said. "You see a lot of that kind of creativity. People here are saying we don't want to be judged by a single event. We still seek ways that also honor those who have been lost, but recognize their lives were important to us – even if they were short."
As the anniversary approaches, Crebbin is traveling to Washington, D.C. for a vigil on Thursday at Washington National Cathedral, which is partnering with the Newtown Foundation to host a service of mourning and loving remembrance for victims of gun violence in the last year. More than 500 people have registered to attend, and the vigil will be webcast live.
"We're doing that because in Newtown, we recognize this isn't about Newtown, but the impact that gun violence has on all communities," Crebbin said. "We've connected with so many people and shared common goals and purposes that will promote change."