In Newtown, Conn., memorial chimes mingle with sobs

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- First a chime, then a sob.

This is how Newtown United Methodist Church began a short remembrance of victims killed in a horrific school shooting a week earlier at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 14.

The first deep peals here sounded when the Rev. Mel Kawakami pulled a rope in the church vestibule. The chimes signaled to other churches statewide to ring their bells, too. Newtown United Methodist Church, a half mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, was the first.

A succession of four church leaders rang the bell 28 times in quick succession. Twenty chimes were for the children who died; six for the adult staff members; one for Nancy Lanza whose son shot her in her bed; and one for troubled 20-year-old who unleashed such horror and violence on this bedroom community.

Numerous memorials in Newtown and surrounding areas honor 26 victims, leaving out the shooter and his mother, who owned the guns used in the rampage, but church leaders here wanted to remember them, too.

"We are all God's children and God loves everyone," said Jay Thomas, who lived in McMurray, Pa., until 1993 when he moved to Newtown, and became a member of church leadership here.

About 80 people were inside the sanctuary for the bell ringing. Those who managed to keep their eyes dry during the bell ringing could no longer hold their tears when a lone alto solo sang "Amazing Grace" from the rafters.

"It was just a week ago when we began this dark night," Rev. Kawakami told the gathered prayerful, some who came from as far as North Carolina and Costa Rica to mourn with the 27,000 people of Newtown.

Rustling could be heard in the pews, where parishioners fished tissues out of small packets with Snoopy on them.

"It was but one week ago when we could not have known ... how our lives would be turned upside down. We could not have known the grief that we would feel," he said.

Friday night, Rev. Kawakami noted, is the longest night of the year.

"That means that each day now will be a little longer. Each day the sun will come out for a little longer and each day the light will be with us a little longer," he said.

Parishioners said they have hope that the days will get easier but that hasn't happened yet.

The Rev. Kyle Burrows, a pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Sampson County, N.C., said he's been telling his parishioners that lamenting is part of the grieving process, but so is hoping.

Rev. Burrows was at the bell-ringing Friday, having driven 13 hours Thursday to deliver rose bushes his parish bought for Newtown -- one for each family, two for first responders, two for Sandy Hook Elementary School and two for the fire department where families of survivors gathered to collect their children that Friday morning.

"God put it in our hearts that we had to make it known to the people here that we love them and care for them in the cotton fields and tobacco fields of North Carolina. This has affected everybody," he said.

Before the service, Rev. Burrows tearfully telephoned his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter to tell them he'd be home tonight.

"I feel blessed," he said after hanging up. "As a parent I can't comprehend this. A week ago last night the parents here tucked their children into bed for the last time."

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Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: or 1-703-996-9292. First Published December 22, 2012 5:00 AM


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