NBC News — Bells tolled 26 times in Newtown, Conn., on Saturday — once for each of the victims who died a year ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in a brutal, senseless massacre carried out by disturbed loner Adam Lanza.
The bells rang began sounding at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown beginning at 9:30 a.m. — the moment the gunman shot his way into the school on Dec. 14, 2012, the Associated Press reported. Connecticut’s governor had asked for houses of worship across the state to do the same, and flags were lowered to half-staff around Connecticut.
At the White House, President Barack Obama and wife, Michelle, paused for a moment of silence in honor of the victims, standing at a wooden table in the Map Room before three tiers of 26 lighted candles.
Officials and many citizens of Newtown, still fatigued and traumatized, emphatically requested privacy, asking the American public and media stay away on the anniversary so that the families and friends of the victims could quietly mourn and reflect.
“Newtown’s ask of the world for the anniversary is to stay where you are and do acts of kindness and honor those we’ve lost,” David Ackert, chairman of the Newtown Foundation and Newtown Action Alliance, told NBC Connecticut.
Many Newtown residents were themselves staying away on the anniversary, including Neil Heslin, father of 6-year-old victim Jesse Lewis. He told that he planned to travel to New York on the anniversary to take part in a project honoring the victims, but also to avoid any spectacle that may encroach on the town.
“I need to get out of Dodge,” he said.
The Associated Press reported that Newtown looked every bit the classic New England town on Saturday, with snow falling and many homes decorated with Christmas lights. But it said reminders of the citizens’ private grief were everywhere. “God bless the families,” read a sign posted at one house in the green and white colors of the Sandy Hook school, and a church posted that it was “open for prayer.”
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