Residents of Newtown, Connecticut gathered at a somber prayer service on Sunday to remember the 20 young children and six educators killed by a gunman two years ago in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
The town, located some 78 miles (126 kilometers) northeast of New York City, is holding no official events to commemorate the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. There were no formal events last year either.
“The second anniversary, like the first one last year, will be recognized in personal reflection and remembrance,” said Newtown’s highest elected official, First Selectman Patricia Llodra, and Superintendent of Schools Joseph Erardi, in a statement.
Besides the prayer service, which was sponsored by the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, there were candlelight vigils across Connecticut over the weekend. In Fairfield on Sunday, about 30 people, including U.S. Representative Jim Himes, gathered in a small church to remember the victims.
“We will continue fighting to prevent these kinds of evil acts in the future,” Himes told the congregants, each of whom was holding a white candle.
The massacre inflamed a national debate over gun control and raised the prospect of a wave of lawsuits by the families of the first graders who were killed. The parents of eight of the victims have notified Connecticut courts they may file wrongful death lawsuits.
Their initial court filings, related to legal entities created in memory of their children, do not indicate who the families could target in their lawsuits, according to a chief court clerk for Northern Fairfield County Probate Court.
While the parents could not be reached for comment, a spokesman for Bridgeport law firm Koskoff, Koskoff and Bieder said a lawyer at the firm had recently met with some of the Newtown parents about potential suits.
“Attorney Josh Koskoff has met with parents about legal action,” said Geraldo Parrilla, a legal assistant with the firm.
Despite the outrage that followed the Newtown massacre, school shootings remain common across the United States. Some 95 incidents, including fatal and nonfatal assaults, suicides and unintentional shootings have occurred in 33 states since the Newtown massacre, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
The group was created by the merger of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a group founded after the Newtown shootings.
“It’s astounding,” said Shannon Watts, who founded the Moms Demand Action group. “There is no other developed country that would tolerate this kind of gun violence around school-age children.”
Gun-rights advocates note that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms and suggested after the Newtown attack that armed guards in schools could avert future violence.
Newtown has razed the school that was site of the attack, which ended when the 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, shot himself to death. It recently acquired the home where Lanza lived with his mother, who he shot dead before the rampage. That building may also be torn down.
The 12-member Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission is moving ahead to create a permanent memorial to honor the dead.
“We are meeting monthly, but have taken December off out of respect for the families who lost their loves ones on that tragic day,” said Kyle Lyddy, chairman of the commission, which includes four parents of children killed in the attack.
The commission is entering the final phase of recommending either a single or multiple memorials and is considering such proposals as an outdoor park and gardens, and indoor murals and art exhibits, Lyddy said.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Liston in Orlando, Florida; Editing by Scott Malone, Frank McGurty and Paul Simao)