By Polly Keary, Editor
About 100 people turned out in near-freezing temperatures at Lake Tye Park Friday night for a hastily-organized candlelight vigil in support of the victims and survivors of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school that had taken place earlier that day.
Three pastors offered words of sorrow and prayer as others huddled, hands cupping flickering flames, before a small cluster of candles and a sign of support for the residents of Newtown, Conn., where the shootings occurred.
“You have to say something,” said Michael Smith, pastor of the Monroe United Methodist Church. “You can’t let this go by without objecting. I think we all came to say, ‘No, never again.'”
Holly Tiege, a member of the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission, quoted the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all humans have the right to live in freedom and safety.
“We stand together with all those supporting those affected, and hope tonight’s show of support will encourage everyone to take the principles of the Declaration of Human Rights to heart as we move forward toward healing,” she said.
Tiege was a major organizer of the quickly-arranged vigil.
At about noon, she began posting notices about the vigil on Facebook group pages and reaching out to local media. The notices were reposted on other social media sites, and word spread quickly.
Organizers invited clergy members to speak, solicited donations of posters, candles, hot drinks and snacks from Roundabout Espresso, Ben Franklin, Staples, Safeway and Sweet Indulgence.
“I’m not sure how vigils go; I’ve never done one,” Tiege said to the assembled crowd. “But in the space of five hours, you pulled all this together. You found candles and called your friends and said as a community that we are not going to stand down. Words don’t describe how proud I am.”
Mayor Robert Zimmerman was unable to attend, but sent a message to be read.
“Our hearts go out to the folks in Connecticut,” he wrote. “A tragedy like this is hard to comprehend but we trust the community will come together. Our vigil tonight is a way of sharing in their grief and supporting them at this terrible time.”
“What we do might seem like a small thing, but I hope that what we do and what is being done all over the country by people like us will be one thing that helps them feel our love and prayers and best wishes on what must be the worst night of their lives,” said Nancy Franke, a Monroe resident who spoke during the vigil.
After the brief service, the crowd was joined by about a dozen uniformed firefighters who came after their shift change was complete. They gathered with the mourners already there and shared their shock and horror about the events that morning.
Nef Anton, a mother of five, said that she brought her children to mourn.
Helping children understand such an event, and to feel safe in the wake of it, is not easy, said Rosemary O’Neil, spokesperson for the Monroe School District.
The school district sent out an email to parents with tips from the National Association of School Psychologists on how to help children cope (See below).
She also said that the Monroe School District will try, as more is learned of what transpired in Connecticut, to review school safety plans and adjust if there are improvements that could be made.
She also said that everyone in the community has a role to play in safety in schools.
“The mistake some people make is they make the assumption that this could never happen here,” she said. “It can happen anywhere. Humans are an unpredictable group. That’s why we all need to be attentive. It’s important that we all work together to keep everyone safe.”
The National Association of School Psychologists has issued the following recommendations for helping children deal with the news of the shooting in Connecticut.
Turn off or closely monitor the television – endless news programs are likely to heighten anxiety, and young children cannot distinguish between images on television and their personal reality.
Children under seven are least able to understand what happened and should be as shielded as much as possible from the news. Children in elementary school should be reassured of their safety. Older children may need to express opinions or ask questions.
Answer questions factually.
Be optimistic and remind children that their school regularly practices drills so are prepared in case of an emergency.
Listen and observe – pay attention to changes in behavior that show your child needs to talk more or needs an extra hug. If a child has suffered another previous or recent trauma, consulting with a mental health professional could be a good idea.
Offer other outlets for expression for kids besides talking; some kids process emotion best by drawing, writing, reading or playing music.
Draw children’s attention to the outpouring of support from the community of Newtown, and that many good people are trying to help.
Take care of yourself. You are better able to help your children if you are coping well. Experts tell us if adults are anxious or upset, then children are more likely to be so, as well.