A year later, Newtown residents ask for privacy, thank the world

Still reeling from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, community aims to mourn in peace

Residents in Newtown are asking the media to stay away on the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

NEWTOWN — Through the heartache, tears and clouds of grief since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago today, there have been rays of hope.

The town’s spirit, residents say, has revealed itself in the darkest hour. It has been found in a movement on Facebook, felt in a parade on Main Street and witnessed at high school football games.

Residents have leaned on each other, forming an unspoken bond, as they have found comfort and hope for a new beginning.

All the while, they have been buoyed by love and compassion from people around the world.

“The community spirit that has come out of this … I’ve never been more proud to say I’m from Newtown,” said Kyle Lyddy, 26, who founded the “We Are Newtown” movement, an effort launched on Facebook that’s sought to unite the community by highlighting the good in people.

“I think this one-year anniversary is kind of bringing residents together again,” he said.

Today, there will be no official ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the massacre that left 26 dead, including 20 children. The town has asked for privacy as it remembers the victims of the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

As residents attend worship services and recognize the occasion each in their own way, they will have yet another group to rally behind and another way to feel connected.

'Marching Forward'

The Newtown Nighthawks American Youth Football & Cheer cheerleaders will have two squads competing in the national championships in Kissimmee, Fla., throughout the weekend.

Regardless of the outcome, the more than 50 cheerleaders, who are in the fifth, sixth and eighth grades, are certain to make the town proud.

“It’s going to be really nice,” said 13-year-old Heather Azzarito, a cheerleader making the trip. “We’ll have people at home rooting for us.”

Kim Baker of Newtown, an assistant coach for the eighth graders, who was fundraising this week outside Bagel Delight to help defray travel and hotel expenses, said some girls will miss being in town, but she’s proud of them.

“It will be nice for the girls to be in something that’s joyful, exciting and fun,” said Baker. “Just getting there is already winning.”

The Newtown High School varsity football team has also brought pride to the town this fall, posting an undefeated record in the regular season.

The team won its conference, before being bounced out in the state quarterfinals earlier this month.

Players dedicated the season to Sandy Hook Elementary School. All year, the coaches reminded the Nighthawks who they were playing for.

“We were always told just to give the town something to cheer for,” said 17-year-old Austin Babyak, a senior cornerback on the team. “It made me proud that we accomplished as much as we did.”

This year’s Labor Day Parade, which is always a major event in town, took on a special significance, said parade committee secretary and town historian Dan Cruson.

The committee selected the theme, “We Are Newtown-Marching Strong.” Marchers from Sandy Hook Elementary School held signs thanking the world in various languages.

“We felt it was needed more this year to show that Newtown was pulling together,” Cruson said.

Not alone

As residents work to heal, they won’t be making the journey alone. They know that the volunteers from as far away as California who flooded the town after the massacre will be thinking of them.

Lyddy said his group has sold “We Are Newtown” T-shirts to people in every state in the country as it raises money to give college scholarships to Newtown High School students pursuing careers in teaching. The Facebook page, which he set up a day after the shooting, has more than 32,000 likes.

So far, the group has distributed $26,000 in scholarship money, split among four of this year’s graduates. It hopes to hand out scholarships annually.

“Emotionally, you don’t know how to prepare for this,” said Lyddy, a 2005 graduate of Newtown High School. “I think people rallied so quickly to make something positive out of this situation."

“I think that what we’ve learned is there’s good in humanity.”

Yolie Moreno, 45, of Newtown, wanted to make a permanent record of the compassion and love shown by so many, so she launched the Newtown Documentation Project.

Working with a small team of volunteers during the past eight months, she has photographed thousands of cards, paintings, teddy bears, quilts and other gifts sent to town since last December.

She plans to launch a website featuring 37,000 photographs the team has taken of the items. Moreno hopes it will help the community move forward.

“I do know it will help because the stuff is beautiful and beauty can transcend even the darkest moments,” she said.

Moreno, who lost her brother in a car accident as a child, said she'll never forget the people who supported her family. She wants everyone who reached out to Newtown to know that they, too, won’t be forgotten.

“It’s almost like a thank you to the world for embracing our town,” she said, “and showing us what humanity is really about.”

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