By JULIE STAGIS, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
9:59 PM CST, December 19, 2012
About 3,000 people gathered at Western Connecticut State University Wednesday night to honor those lost, support each other and begin to recover from last Friday's school shooting in Newtown.
Tears rolled down the faces of the young and the old, those directly connected with one of the 27 shooting victims and those connected only by proximity, as the names and faces of 6- and 7-year-olds — 20 of them — appeared on a large screen as "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" played in the background.
The tears fell again as the names and faces of the six women killed in the assault were shown as Amy Masse sang "You Raise Me Up" onstage.
Through faith and tribute, the thousands became one.
"We here in the O'Neill Center tonight are all alike," the university's president, James Schmotter, said in opening remarks. "We are alike in our pain; we are alike in our grief; we are alike in our quest to try to find some understanding of events that seem truly incomprehensible."
Schmotter said he was "grateful for everyone here who has come to be with our friends and neighbors, to remember and send every wish we have to our friends in Newtown, but most of all to be together with compassion, kindness and love."
The night was punctuated with music and art. The Rogers Park Middle School Chorus and Danbury High School Madrigals sang songs, including "Amazing Grace." Songwriter Kevin Briody playing a song about love of family. Artist Scott LoBaido painted, on the spot, an abstract American flag with a heart and candle depicted in the middle, which was presented to Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra.
Llodra received a standing ovation every time her name was mentioned.
Perhaps most moving were the speeches honoring the victims, the heroes, the strength of community.
Rogers Park Middle School teacher John Schlogl honored the teachers and staff lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School, especially Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was once an assistant principal at Rogers Park.
Once stories began to circulate about Hochsprung's final acts, "many were surprised by her selfless act of heroism," Schlogl said. "I was not surprised. My colleagues were not surprised."
All educators aim to protect students, he said. "Your children are our children."
At Hochsprung's wake earlier Wednesday, her husband, George, asked Schlogl to share one thought with the crowd gathered at WCSU: "Dawn was a hero, and all the staff at Sandy Hook are heroes."
Rabbi Clifford E. Librach of the United Jewish Center in Danbury saluted the first responders.
"The light [God created on] the first day … has stood as the deepest and most enduring symbol of the Almighty," Librach said. "At 9:30 in the morning last Friday, the light of the Lord was eclipsed."
"The first responders saved the lives of hundreds as they encountered the ugly and unspeakable death of a sacred score of young innocent souls and six martyred heroes," he said. "It was through the fingers of the first responders that the light of God was restored."
Senior Pastor Clive Calver of Walnut Hill Community Church spoke of the future, saying the community will band together and "rise from the ashes" of the tragedy.
A sign at the bottom of his street in Newtown reads, "Newtown, you are not alone," he said.
"To all the other communities here, thank you," Calver said. "We aren't alone, and together by God's grace, we will begin again."