East Hampton reflects on Newtown shootings

Bonnie Boisits, right, helps light the candle of Bonnie Boisits, right, helps light the candle of Eliza Breen, 9, in front of the Hook Mill on the Village Green in East Hampton during a candlelight vigil held to remember the victims of the Newtown, Conn. school shooting. (Dec. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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Watching news of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Suzie Petykowski, a longtime East Hampton resident, was struck by the parallels between the two communities.

"It's a very similar size, the houses," said Petykowski, 60, a nurse in the village for a quarter-century. "The people walking around in that town looked like any one of the people here."

That sentiment was shared by a handful of the hundred or so gathered last evening at the Hook Mill park in East Hampton, to pay tribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims.

At the park where the windmill stood (some described it as an "emblem" of the community), 26 Christmas trees were arranged in the shape of a pyramid. A village resident had donated them, one for each student and teacher felled in the Dec. 14 massacre.

Members of the clergy in the village and a cantor offered solemn prayers. Village residents brought candles. Visitors cloaked the Christmas trees in homemade ornaments.

On hers, Petykowski inscribed: "To the lost little angels."

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Village residents called the names of the slain students and teachers. After each name came a pause, then the clang of a bell, rung by firefighters.

A crew from the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association stood together, holding candles throughout the 30-minute ceremony.

Watching the lit ferns, said Barbara Hansen, "It's like life is in those trees, those kids are all there in that moment."

It was not unlike feeling a jolt of electricity, she said. "It goes right through you."

Mary Ellen McGuire, chief of the ambulance association, said the ceremony was "cathartic."

"The families of the victims are just so alone; maybe by being here as a group, we can give strength to them," she said.

Lester Baylinson, a lieutenant with the ambulance association, considered the weight of the moment. "We all have children, and it's such a children's time of the year," he said. "Children's lives were lost; it's so sad."

Priscilla Stein, a mother from Montauk, brought her children to the ceremony after hearing about it from the principal in her children's school. Using foam balls covered with red ribbons, Emma, 8, and Ethan, 9, built ornaments of their own.

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Stein said the children knew what had happened. "They are old enough to know and understand; every now and then unfortunate things happen."

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