An invitation-only audience of a few hundred people attended the formal dedication ceremony on January 26 of the first permanent memorial to honor those who were killed on 12/14 at Sandy Hook School.
The roof of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company (SHVFR) main station became home to the memorial on New Year’s Day, when designer and coppersmith Greg Gnandt and a crew of volunteers installed 26 large copper stars. Each copper star on the firehouse roof represents one person who was killed six weeks ago at the elementary school
Twenty-five days later, the bays of the fire station were turned into a temporary auditorium as family members of some of those killed, as well as local and state police officers, Sandy Hook Fire & Rescue members and other local first responders, local and state politicians, and those responsible for the creation and installation of the memorial all gathered for a ceremony that lasted for just under one hour.
Fred Garrity, Jr, the executive director of The CT United Ride, welcomed those in attendance and served as the master of ceremonies. Mr Garrity said the dedication was being done “in a positive light” and that the copper pieces had been done “to bring some positive thoughts when people see those stars.”
The ceremony then began with the presentation of flags by a SHVFR Color Guard, escorted by The Connecticut Firefighters Pipe & Drums. The national anthem was sung by Denise Daniels Biagi, and “The Pledge of Allegiance” was led by SHVFR President Bradley Richardson.
For the next 45 minutes speakers offered words of condolence and hope. The solemn ceremony brought tears from many of those in the large room.
Monsignor Weiss offered the Invocation, first offering words from Genesis 1 (“In the beginning when God created Earth it was a formless wasteland … and God said ‘Let there be light.’”), a correlation to the darkness that was the firehouse roof before New Year’s Day and the 26 bright spots that have since taken up residence there.
“Heavenly Father we gather here together to celebrate the light that these 26 people brought to each of us, to this community, and now to the world,” Monsignor Weiss then offered as part of a prayer. “We pray as we look upon these stars fixed to this roof, that we remind ourselves of the goodness of God and the light of horrible tragedy. Remind us that there is always a reason for hope.”
Monsignor Weiss’s prayer asked for a blessing upon the families of the victims, “for their continued strength and peace … for allowing them to share their loved ones with us.” He reminded all that “there is darkness, and then there is always the light.”
He praised the first responders, “and all those in this community who have stepped forward to bring help and hope,” as well as everyone, locally and around the world, for their generosity, support, prayers and love.
“We ask you now to bless these stars, let them be a reminder for us that light always conquers the dark, and that hope overcomes despair. We ask blessing on them, and all of us gathered here this day,” he said toward the conclusion of his prayer.
Monsignor Weiss addressed the families and those gathered, saying that while everyone in the community has seen evil recently, “we have also seen love like we’ve never seen it before.
“It’s interesting to me how God chose 26 people, from all the people in the world,” he said, looking toward the parents, friends and families in the front rows, “who were creative, and loving, who brought so much joy, and so much happiness. Together those 26 people are transforming lives all throughout this world.”
“Every time we drive past this firehouse we can think in one of two ways,” he later said. “We can think of the darkness, but now that we have these lights, these stars, day and night, there’s no reason for the darkness. There is only reason for light. … Let these stars shine brightly. Because that’s exactly what your loved ones did for us.”
Monsignor Weiss offered thanks to Sandy Hook’s firefighters, “for showing us what commitment means,” as well as to the legislators who were in attendance, “who are really keeping Newtown before the world. We pray that their efforts will not be in vain, because these fine folks did not die in vain. They died to teach us how to live better lives. So let these stars shine brightly, forever.”
Jennifer Savino offered a reading of a poem she wrote after 12/14. Called “Within You,” the work is told from the point of view of the children who died at their school last month. Ms Savino’s voice broke as she read her brief poem.
Mr Garrity introduced Assistant Chief Anthony Capozziello, Mr Gnandt and Jeff Gazerro, a graphic artist who worked on the design and layout for the stars, saying “it was a fantastic effort on all of their parts.” Mr Garrity thanked the trio, as well as the fire company, for being the first place to host a permanent memorial.
In her comments, First Selectman Pat Llodra shared her thanks with the fire company and its members. She also talked about the first time she saw the stars, early one morning, and the impact that moment had on her.
“I saw that the sun was glinting off the roof of the firehouse. I pulled over, and I looked at those stars, and I thought ‘This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,’” she said. “So I had a moment, my own private moment, to pull across the street and say to every one of those 26 stars: ‘I love you. Thank you for having been part of our world.’
“And I thank, very much, the firefighters, for treasuring that moment and that opportunity to offer up that goodwill and that reminder in the most precious of ways,” she continued. She encouraged others to slow down and take a moment to recognize “what those stars stand for” as well as to thank the fire company “for their loyalty and their deep, deep love for our community and for each one of you.”
Governor Malloy and Lt Governor Wyman then formally dedicated the stars. The governor began reading a statement, and then he and the lieutenant governor read the names of “Newtown’s 26 Angels.”
Ms Wyman then addressed the families, saying that while they continue to have pain, “you have given us so much strength.
“Seeing the stars on the roof today, all I could think of was we had talked about how many of those angels, those 26 angels are up there now, and how they are shining down on us,” she said. “Now we can shine right back to them with these 26 stars.”
Echoing the words of Mrs Llodra, Ms Wyman also encouraged the families to visit the firehouse, or sit across the street, and “adopt one of those stars as your own. Talk to them once in a while.
“I can promise you one thing,” she said. “We will never forget them.”
“For years to come,” Gov Malloy then read, finishing the prepared statement of dedication, “these stars will stand as a positive reminder to all who pass, that the moments, the memories, the guidance, the joy, and the love that was shared, will forever live on through our hearts.”
The governor also recalled the efforts of the men and women who responded to the scene 43 days earlier, and those who used the firehouse as their base in the days and first weeks that followed. He told parents that their loved ones have had a major impact on people around the world, and that “their souls live on in us every single day.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Senator Chris Murphy, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty and State Senator John McKinney also spoke Saturday morning, offering their support to the grieving families and thanks to the first responders who were in Sandy Hook both immediately after the incident and during the weeks that have followed.
Chief Halstead was the final speaker of the morning. He too thanked those in attendance, before turning everyone’s attention to a pair of easels to his right that had been covered with a cloth all morning. At his prompt the cloth was lifted by Anthony Capozziello, Jeff Gazerro and Greg Gnandt, revealing a bronze plaque.
The plaque, which measures six feet wide by two feet high, which features a re-creation of the copper stars as they had been laid out on the firehouse roof. The names of all victims were on the plaque, with each name lined up with a star.
Along the lower half of the plaque are the words Hitch Your Wagon To A Star, a segment from Emerson’s “Society and Solitude.” Above those words is the inscription “Dedicated to the memory of the 26 women and children who tragically lost their lives on Friday, December 14, 2012. / Breaking hearts across our country and the world.”
Following the ceremony, each family was given a copper star to take home with them, a gift from Mr Gnandt.
Chief Halstead had initially announced on Saturday that the bronze plaque would be installed on the front of his firehouse when the weather was better. Instead, Greg Gnandt returned to Sandy Hook on Sunday to install the bronze piece.