Hall County paused Friday evening to remember the lives of the 26 Sandy Hook Elementary School students and teachers who lost their lives a week earlier in one of the worst mass shootings in the nation’s history.
Hundreds of people, including teachers, students, school administrators and parents, braved the cold in Gainesville and held a candle in a dark Clermont gym Friday evening, all to pay their respects for the 20 students and six teachers gunned down Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.
Tracy Kakos was among those who filled the Clermont gym Friday for the town’s candlelight vigil. Kakos, who lives in Lawrenceville, has been in Georgia for 16 years. Prior to that, she spent the first 25 years of her life in Newtown.
“It’s amazing when you see people all over the country, all over the world and what they’re doing in support for that town and the families,” Kakos said. “It makes you feel good.”
Earlier Friday, a large group gathered at the Gardens on Green Park adjacent to the Hall County Board of Education offices to remember the fallen and their families.
“It’s unthinkable what those families are going through,” said Carol Duncan, a first-grade teacher at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School. “I’m glad we did this as a community for them.”
In fact, on Friday, throughout the country and the world, thousands stopped to remember Newtown. At 9:30 a.m., churches were asked to ring their bells 26 times, one for each of the victims, ranging in age from age 6 to 56.
Flags throughout the nation have been flying at half-staff and people have been encouraged to wear green and white, the school’s colors, as a token of respect.
“This was a tragedy for every school and every family in our country,” Merrianne Dyer, Gainesville City Schools superintendent, said during the Gainesville vigil.
Employees with Hall County, including the sheriff’s office, donned green-and-white ribbons to show their respect for those who lost their lives.
And the effort, nearly 1,000 miles away from Newtown, is appreciated by those who are close to the town and its people.
Pam Romano, now a Jefferson resident, spent the first seven years of her life in Newtown. She and Kakos were neighbors growing up and had not seen each other in more than 30 years before Friday.
“It’s just wonderful, really,” Romano said. “It spoke volumes that Clermont was willing to do this.”
And as prayers and thoughts — along with balloons with the names of each victim written on them — were sent from Gainesville to Newtown, a common thread connected the two vigils: Do not take family and loved ones for granted.
“Remember to make your family and strong and loving family,” Clermont Mayor James Nix said. “Tell them that you love them and what they mean to you.”