Teachers and community members gathered tonight in Waterbury to pay tribute to the students and educators lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Waterbury teacher George Flaherty Jr. fought tears as he sat beside his eight-year-old daughter Margaret in a Waterbury church tonight praying for the victims of last week’s mass shooting at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. “I am a teacher. I’m a parent. This could happen to any of us.”
Flaherty was joined by nearly 1500 people at tonight’s Mass at The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where 26 candles bearing the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting lit the altar.
Father Dennis Connell spoke of the tragedy and senselessness of the deaths of 20 children and six adults at the school. He explained that the purpose of tonight’s Mass was to honor the educators who made heroic efforts to protect their students. “They made a difference to the very last moment.” Referring to the man who gunned down the victims, Father Connell said, “Educators ran toward him, not away, trying to stop him.”
From left, CEA Vice President Jeff Leake, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, and Waterbury Teachers Association President Kevin Egan enter the basilica to pay their respects.
Kevin Egan, the president of the Waterbury Teachers Association, thanked the church community and the city’s mayor for providing tonight’s “opportunity to grieve and pay tribute to our fallen colleagues.”
NEA President Dennis Van Roekel traveled from Washington to join the service. He said that “last week’s shootings established in our minds that it can happen anywhere.”
Speaking of the victims, he said, “We can best honor their memory as a society by making sure we confront the cause of this head on. The best way, and perhaps the only way to prove that we can make this work, is by coming together—educators, parents, and all citizens of conscience—and doing whatever it takes to protect our children.”
During the service, 26 candles bearing the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting lit the altar.
Van Roekel added, “We owe it to the students who lost their lives Friday and we owe it to the educators who died putting themselves in harm’s way trying to stop evil from falling on their students.”
Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary told the teachers assembled in the church tonight that they are “unsung heroes.” He continued, “We must learn to listen more to teachers and administrators, since they are in the trenches. It amazes me how many decisions are made without teacher input.”
O’Leary continued, “We have turned into a society of taking things for granted. I say we should never take our children’s education for granted, and we should support our teachers and give them the resources they need to teach our children, instead of putting all our emphasis on test scores.”