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A Year Later, Westchester Mourns Victims In Nearby Sandy Hook

Hundreds turned out at Newtown High School as President Barack Obama came to pay respects to victims' families shortly after the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy. Photo Credit: File photo
Balloons and flowers honor the fallen students and educators at the sign for Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. Photo Credit: File
Memorials for the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting filled the neighborhoods of Newtown, Conn., a year ago. Photo Credit: File photo
Children get their first chance to play at Fairfield's playground in September in honor of Sandy Hook victim Jessica Rekos. Photo Photo Credit: Greg Canuel

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Westchester County residents were shocked when senseless violence struck so close to home as 20 first-graders and six educators were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., one year ago.

The entire nation was stunned by the deaths of so many, especially with the very young ages of the victims. But the pain was acute across nearby southwestern Connecticut with the tragedy occurring in such a familiar, nearby locale.

"For many of us, the emotions we felt that day and in the days after are still raw, as if the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened only a moment ago," Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a statement. "Of course, no one feels this more than the families and friends who lost a loved one that terrible day."

Last year on the one-week anniversary, houses of worship and other organizations rang their bells 26 times at 9:30 a.m. to honor each life lost. Malloy renewed that call this year and asked for bells to toll again at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 14. He also asked for residents to perform 26 acts of kindness in memory of the victims.

"The message of these two actions is simple: a moment to come together and mourn, followed by acts of kindness to one another," Malloy said. "We can never fully understand and will hopefully never experience the pain that those most affected by this tragedy feel. But what we can do is always keep them in our prayers — and we can act."

U.S. and state flags should also fly at half-staff in Connecticut from sunrise to sunset Saturday in memory of the victims, Malloy said.

The victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School were:

Charlotte Bacon, 6     Daniel Barden, 7     Rachel D'Avino, 29, teacher's aide     Olivia Engel, 6     Josephine Gay,  7     Ana Marquez-Greene, 6     Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal     Dylan Hockley, 6     Madeleine Hsu, 6     Catherine Hubbard, 6     Chase Kowalski, 7     Jesse Lewis,  6     James Mattioli, 6     Grace McDonnell, 7     Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education aide     Emilie Parker, 6     Jack Pinto, 6     Noah Pozner, 6     Caroline Previdi, 6     Jessica Rekos, 6     Avielle Richman, 6     Lauren Rousseau, 30, first grade teacher     Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist     Victoria Soto, 27, first grade teacher     Benjamin Wheeler, 6     Allison Wyatt, 6

In the year since, schools across the area have re-examined their security and strengthened the protections at buildings by adding guards, bullet-proof glass, new locks on classroom doors and more.

The tragic shooting deaths inspired many to fight for stricter gun control laws. A local chapter of One Million Moms For Gun Control helped to organize a rally of more than 5,500 people at the state Capitol in Hartford to back the issue. Malloy signed a bill into law in April tightening gun laws in Connecticut.

President Barack Obama visited Newtown after the tragedy, offering words of comfort to families and to residents in a service at Newtown High School.

The Sandy Ground Project, organized by the New Jersey State Firefighters’ Mutual Benevolent Association after Hurricane Sandy, helped to install two of 26 new playgrounds in memory of two of those slain.

Norwalk's Oyster Shell Park was chosen as the site for the playground dedicated to first-grader Allison Wyatt. The site along the water includes a goldfish theme to honor her love of the cracker.

The September grand opening of a new playground at Penfield Beach in Fairfield in honor of Jessica Rekos included crowds of children playing and pony rides, because Jessica loved horses.

In May, the slain educators were posthumously awarded the Civilian Honors Medal, the highest honor given to civilians from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, for giving their lives to protect their students.

The school building itself was demolished recently, with a new school slated to be built on the site and opened in the fall of 2015.

A report released last month by the Danbury state's attorney said the shooter acted alone but did not pinpoint a motive. Transcripts and recordings of 911 calls from that day were recently released as well.

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