WILLIAMSON — Residents of the Tug Valley area are well known for their caring hearts and warm natures. When someone is in need or hurting, there is usually someone who will step forward and lend a helping hand. Although the State of Connecticut is many miles from the communities that make up Eastern Ky. and Southern WV and there’s no direct connection between the two locations, a candlelight vigil was held in memory and in honor of those who so sadly lost their lives in a horrific shooting on Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School Monday evening in front of the Historical Coal House.
“This tragedy has really affected me,” stated WV House of Delegate Justin Marcum. “I’m now the parent of a little girl and I can’t even begin to imagine what these families are going through.”
“I felt like we should do something to show our support for these kids whose lives ended all too soon at the hands of another as well as the teachers who died trying to protect them, so we decided to hold a candlelight vigil in their honor.”
A total of 26 lives were lost in the shooting in Newtown, Conn., 20 of whom were 6-7 year-old first grade students (12 girls and 8 boys). The names and ages of those who were killed are as follows:
Charlotte Bacon, 6; Rachel D’Avino, 29; Olivia Engel, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47 (school principal); Jesse Lewis, 6; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Grace McConnell, 7; Anna Marie Murphy, 52; Emilie Parker, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27; Daniel Barden, 7; Josephine Gray, 7; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; James Mattiolo, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Carolyn Previdi, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; and Allison Wyatt, 6.
The perpetrator also died at the scene of a reported self-inflicted gunshot wound. Before traveling to the school where the horrific scene began to unfold, he allegedly shot and killed his mother at her residence.
Despite the less than desirable weather conditions yesterday evening, a crowd of approximately 40 people gathered for the Mingo County candlelight vigil to show respect for those lives that were cut short and to join in prayer for the numerous families that are suffering. Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith and Delegate Marcum conducted the ceremony, with both public officials speaking about the senseless tragedy that has put our entire nation in a state of shock.
“These parents woke their children up Friday morning, fed them breakfast and sent them off to school, never thinking for one second that they would never again see them, hold them or have the opportunity to tell them how loved they were,” commented Smith. “This should be a lesson to us all to hug our loved ones every chance we get; tell them you love them while you can because none of us have the promise of tomorrow.”
“Mingo County has had its share of tragedies including floods and coal mine disasters, but we’ve been blessed to have never experienced anything as terrible as what these 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut are dealing with. I’m positive that the unthinkable act of losing a child in the greatest fear of every parent standing here this evening.”
Several Mingo County educators were in attendance for the candlelight vigil and spoke with the Daily News about their feelings regarding this tremendous act of violence and how it affects them in their role as instructors.
Ashley White is employed as a 7th Grade English Instructor at the Lenore K-8, and remarked that one of the teachers killed during Friday’s shooting was the same age as herself and said that she was amazed at the female’s ability to remain calm while attempting to take measures to keep the students safe.
“Could I step up and be that brave should I ever find myself in her shoes? She told the kids to hide in the closet and in the cubbies used to store items and when the shooter demanded to know where they were, she told him they were in the gymnasium. Her efforts were in vain, and they were discovered and shot to death and she also lost her life. I have the upmost admiration and respect for the unselfish actions of all of these teachers and aids,” said White.
“This tragedy had made us assess our plans of action should something similar to this occur. A school is supposed to be a safe haven for the students and when something like this happens, we realize we’re not nearly as safe as we thought we were.”
White stated that she did not discuss the school shooting with her students on Friday or Monday, saying that her protective mode kicked in and she just wanted to protect and shield them from this act of violence.
“I’m not a parent, but I’m extremely protective over my students and I wanted to give them a sense of normalcy and security,” explained White.
Dr. Richard Duncan, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Coordinator for Mingo County Schools, said that this occurrence makes a teacher back and up and remember all the safety training they’ve been provided and all of the drills they’ve conducted, but adds that he’s sure no amount of training and participating in drills of various scenarios could ever prepare you for the real thing, and emphasized the importance of securing the facilities to prevent intruders from entering the schools undetected.
“I’ve got the upmost respect for the teachers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lives of these children,” stated Duncan. “They laid down their lives in an attempt to spare those of their students. They are heroes in every respect of the word.”
Mikey Curry, the 2nd grade student of Riverside Elementary School and son of Joseph Curry and Greta Bevins of Williamson, lit the candles of all those attending the vigil. The names of the victims were read by Delegate Marcum and prayer and singing was led by Commissioner Smith. A moment of silence was held prior to the conclusion of the memorial service.
“We don’t understand why this occurred,” said Smith in his closing remarks. “We are baffled. We pray for God to comfort the hearts of these families who have experienced this great loss and we pray for the healing of the community of Newtown, Connecticut.”
Marcum thanked all of those who took time to attend the candlelight vigil and asked that everyone in the Tug Valley area continue to keep those who lost loved ones in the school shooting in their prayers.