Vigil honors shooting victims

Published 9:46 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aubree Deets, 17, and her brother Isaiah, 18 months, pay their respects to victims of the Connecticut school shooting during a candlelight vigil at Southwestern Elementary School on Wednesday. Almost 70 people attended the vigil, organized by Southwestern’s Parent-Teacher Association.

During a candlelight vigil at Southwestern Elementary School on Wednesday, Suffolk parents and students stood shoulder to shoulder in spirit with the families of the Connecticut school shooting’s 26 victims.

Almost 70 members of the Suffolk Public Schools community attended the emotional event, organized by Southwestern’s Parent-Teacher Association.

“The PTA felt like there needed to be something held in Suffolk, and we weren’t aware of anything else that was going to be held,” PTA President Candice Gallop said. “(It’s) just to remember … the students and teachers and the principal that lost their lives.”

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The gathering formed around the steps at the school’s front entrance. One by one, folks held together their candles until all were lit.

Prayers were offered, speeches intoned, and the vigil ended after everyone joined together to sing “Silent Night.”

Ronda Town came to the vigil on her own, her children, ages 6 and 9 and both Southwestern students, staying home with colds.

“I’m definitely out here to show my support for the victims,” Town said. “Being a mother of children in the same age group as the children who were killed … I felt I needed to be here.”

Cheryl Riddick, Southwestern’s principal, said, “We have to pull everyone together at this time.”

Children at her school have handled news of the tragedy well, she says. “They have been really quiet and just following the normal routine,” she said.

“We haven’t had questions from the children. Each parent has chosen to address it differently, so we just take the lead from the parents.”

The vigil offered an opportunity for each family “to take the next step they need to take” in dealing with what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday morning, she said, adding, “It shows the strength of our community.”

In the days since the shooting occurred, Curtis Hoggard, who attended the vigil with his wife and four young Southwestern children, has been volunteering at the bus loop during mornings.

“They only have three male (staff members), so I figured one more person will kind of help out a little bit,” he said.

He has instructed his children to let teachers know if they spot a stranger on school grounds, he said.