Officials, Community Leaders Turn Attention To 12/14 Anniversary

At one point during a press conference hosted by several town officials and community leaders on December 3 at Newtown Municipal Center, First Selectman Pat Llodra was asked how she would like people outside of Newtown to pay tribute to those lost, as well as to residents and others who have endured the daily reminders leading up to the first anniversary of 12/14.

"The best way to honor what happened to the youngsters and loved ones who lost their lives here on December 14, is to take care of someone in your own community," Mrs Llodra replied. "The concept of paying it forward is real. It has the power and potential to do some good in a really sustainable way."

Mrs Llodra said people outside the community have extended kindness to Newtown every single day since 12/14, "and we really try and convince people that there are families and organizations in their own community that should be the recipients of their kindness.

"We are honored if they would do that in memory of someone who lost their life," she said.

Mrs Llodra, along with  Cody Foss of Newtown Youth Academy, Police Chief Michael Kehoe, Interim School Superintendent Dr John Reed, and Newtown Congregational Church Senior Minister Matthew Crebbin decided to make themselves available this week, in response to an almost incalculable number of requests from media outlets demanding information and interviews about how the community would be dealing with the first anniversary of the nation's worst public school shooting.

The first selectman said that the town is requesting that well-wishers not visit the community on 12/14, especially if they are bearing gifts or memorial items to be left on the roadsides and in Sandy Hook center as thousands of items were in the days following the shooting.

"We've built up a protocol in response to that should we find there are spontaneous displays as there were after the event," Mrs Llodra said. "As much as we value the sentiment, it is not in our best interests to have that happen. So we will have to react by removing those items as soon as they appear."

Chief Kehoe said on the weekend of 12/14, he and his department, along with law enforcement forces from other departments, will present a very visible presence across town.

He said the goal is "to keep traffic moving as quickly and rapidly as possible through the community.

"We don't want to see the blockages that we had for ten days straight after 12/14. So our presence will be focused on trying to keep as normal a traffic pattern as possible," Chief Kehoe said. "You can be sure there will be parking restrictions, extra officers. But we're hoping because of the messages we are sending today that we will not need those restrictions."

Mrs Llodra said there was an emotional component to the request for people and media to stay away next weekend, as well as an economic component.

"Our village of Sandy Hook was harmed almost irreparably by the choke hold that media traffic had on us for ten days during the buying season of the year for those shops," she said. "And there is the emotional impact -- clearly to be reminded in such a stark way of this horrible anniversary -- we don't need this. We live this every day, we know what happened here."

Rev Crebbin said there was no playbook for how he and his follow clergy members in the community should react and respond to the emotions that erupted following the shooting.

So he said the collective members of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association that Rev Crebbin leads decided to promote communication, dialog and to build bridges among the various groups and organizations locally.

"All of us have different roles, but how do we continue to promote understanding?" he asked. "Kindness is a word that we need to continue to remind ourselves of within this community. How do we seek to be kind to each other in the midst of this journey of grief and rebuilding when there are a lot of stressers and anxiety?"

Rev Crebbin said in the end, the only way the community can move forward is to "forgive each other, to listen to each other, and practice kindness with each other on a daily basis."

Mrs Llodra said that one of the most striking acts of kindness came a week to ten days after the shooting when the family members of those lost on 12/14 got together to bake cookies for the many first responders who came to Newtown on that fateful day.

She said that act was such a testament to the human spirit, "that these parents in the midst of their despair were able to come together and say 'part of my journey of grief is to do good for others -- and the people I want to do good for are the ones who tried to help on that day.' I think that was an extraordinary act."

Responding to a question about how faith has helped the community leaders get through the days and months since the shooting, Dr Reed replied that "one of the things faith teaches you is there are not always answers."

Dr Reed also said he has noticed a lot of the people in the Newtown school community have turned inward, not wanting to tell their personal stories or feelings about 12/14 for fear it will be boiled down to a "30 second soundbite on CNN."

In closing out the press conference, Mrs Llodra asked the media to not forget that the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School were the true first responders to the crisis that struck their community.

"Their job was on the line in terms of realizing their obligation to protect those children," Mrs Llodra said. "When we talk about first responders, it's a very large group of people. And we have a commitment to all of those populations to provide support services for them as long as they need it, and to the fullest extent possible."

Mrs Llodra closed the press conference saying that once all the reports and 911 audio files are released and December 15 arrives, she anticipates there will be sense of relief throughout the community.

"We will have gotten through three or four of the most difficult events that we are confronting -- the reports, the 911 tapes and the anniversary come together as a perfect trifecta of emotional baggage that is difficult for the community to bear," Mrs Llodra said. "So once we have that behind us, I think we can take a collective breath, and confront our next step on that journey -- to rebuild our Sandy Hook School, and to develop our sense of confidence -- to regain our feet and to say we are ready to continue on."

More stories like this: 12/14 anniversary, Press Conference
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