A young resident holds a sign while observing the six month anniversary of the Newtown massacre outside the town hall in Newtown, Connecticut June 14, 2013. Credit: Reuters
The families of many of those who died in a shooting rampage last year at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gathered on Monday to encourage people to perform an act of kindness on the anniversary of the slayings.
The families also announced the launch of a new website, Mysandyhookfamily.org, to honor the 26 victims in the December 14, 2012, shootings. The website is intended to create a "singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day."
In a tearful procession, representatives from 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School families stood up to say they would light a candle to mark the anniversary.
Representatives of the group said they hoped those moved by the tragedy would perform an act of kindness in their own communities to honor the 20 children and six adults killed nearly a year ago.
In one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, a 20-year-old Newtown resident, Adam Lanza, went on the rampage at the elementary school, shooting the pupils and school staff dead before turning a gun on himself.
The shootings shocked the nation and led President Barack Obama to propose a series of new gun-control measures, including an expansion of federal background-check laws. Those efforts were blocked in the U.S. Senate after some lawmakers argued the changes would be onerous to law-abiding gun owners.
In a report released last month, state investigators said the gunman acted alone, using guns legally purchased by his mother, whom he shot dead before driving to the school. His motive and reason for targeting Sandy Hook, a school he once attended, remain a mystery, the report said.
Earlier on Monday, Newtown officials, including First Selectman Pat Llodra, held a news conference with television reporters to ask for privacy and a restrained media presence as the anniversary nears.
"We can't choose to not have this horrible thing happen to us. It happened. We cannot make it un-happen," Llodra said. "But we can choose how we react to it.
"Please respect our need to be alone and to be quiet and to have that personal time to continue on our journey of grief in the way that serves us," she said.
Many of those directly affected by the shooting, including parents of the children killed that day, have said they plan to be out of town this week. Groups that have used Newtown as a rallying call in advocating for changes in public policy have also vowed to stay out of Newtown on the anniversary, holding events in Washington and other cities instead.
Newtown's police chief, Michael Kehoe, said the town would have extra police officers on duty and that the department's goal would be to encourage an atmosphere of normalcy.
Llodra said she hoped to fulfill media organizations' request for access while requesting they stay away this week.
"We're trying to respect the world's interest in us, and we certainly have benefited from that interest in many ways," she said. But, she added, "We pay a price when the media is here."