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Friday August 28th, 2015 5:34AM

Area vigils remember the Newtown shooting victims

By Jerry Gunn Reporter
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GAINESVILLE - An estimated 150 people in Gainesville braved the blustery cold at sunset Friday to pray for and remember the shooting victims of Newtown, Connecticut.

They gathered at Gardens on Green next to the Hall Schools Central Office a week after tragedy and terror struck the small New England community.

Paige Odell, a Chicopee Woods Elementary School teacher, attended the service with her two young daughters, eight year old Carleigh and 10 year old Caroline.

"We just felt like it was important for our children to understand that we are here as a United States community to pray for other families that are having trouble and going through hard times," she said.

"I think the event of last Friday changed everybody's life," said McEver Arts Principal Catherine Rosa. "The fact that it happened is devastating to all educators. Now we just want to bring the community together."

The vigil service was led by Deputy Hall County Superintendent Lee Lovett who said the gathering was held with a 'sense of unity and collective loss and a sense of caring for people we don't personally know.'

"Those losses in Connecticut are our losses too," Lovett said. "May we honor the lost here today and their grieving community by joining hearts."

The vigil was a joint effort of the Hall and Gainesville school systems as well as Lakeview Academy and Riverside Military Academy. The names of the child shooting victims were read along with the adult victims by Gabriel Espinoza and Steve McDaniel.

Gainesville School Superintendent Merrianne Dyer and Hall Superintendent Will Schofield spoke.

"Our job now is to teach more lovingly, reach out to one another with new compassion and look at children that we see who are alone, confused, isolated, and reach out to them before they reach a point where they repeat something as tragic as this was," Dr. Dyer said. "This was a tragedy for every school and every family in our country."

"We're not private school students or public school students or home school students, we're boys and girls," Superintendent Schofield said. "We're a community."

Schofield called for a moment of silence to remember the Newtown shooting victims but also 'with a resolve to move forward for the generations to come'.

Later Friday evening an outdoor candlelight vigil originally scheduled for Gailey Park was moved indoors to the Clermont Gym as nearly 125 gathered to pay their respects.

Two former Newtown residents who now call north Georgia home, Pam Romano and Tracy Kakos, read aloud the names of the 27 victims.

Children and teachers from the audience came forward as the names were being read and were handed a pink or blue ballon with the student/victim's name written on it. White ballons were used to represent the seven adults who died trying to protect the six-and-seven-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School students.

The children and teachers marched silently out the gymnasium door and following a prayer released the helium balloons into the starless, blustry Georgia night.
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