Sandy Hook school shooting: Westchester residents unite amid tragedy close to home

Dozens attend a vigil on the Dobbs Ferry Dozens attend a vigil on the Dobbs Ferry waterfront for the victims of those killed Friday in Newtown, Conn. (Dec. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: Faye Murman

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Shock and confusion were the sentiments of Hudson Valley residents who gathered Sunday night in Yonkers and Dobbs Ferry for vigils to honor the 20 children and seven adults killed in the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

"Just 72 hours ago, less than an hour from where we stand, young families were gathering for dinner like every other night, doing their homework, watching some TV," said Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano in a packed City Hall gathering to commemorate the victims. "Little did these families understand that less than 24 hours later, the next day would come and their lives would never be the same."

As politicians, school officials, religious leaders and others spoke, around 200 residents in City Hall's main entrance held candles and fought back tears. Between the speakers, singers like Yonkers restaurateur Gus Hayes delivered moving renditions of "How Great Thou Art" and other mournful songs.

Many Yonkers families said the proximity of the incident brought home to them how school shootings have become all too frequent in the country.

"We had to come," said Manny Fakhouri, a Yonkers resident who attended with his wife. "Our babies are in second and third grade."

Many of the approximately 200 people at a vigil later in the night at Waterfront Park in Dobbs Ferry echoed Fakhouri's thoughts.

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"It doesn't matter where it is," said Gabrielle Mason, a Head Start music teacher who lives in Dobbs Ferry. "Every mother I know is trying to imagine it's not them."

Yonkers resident Althea Brown similarly thought of her family when she heard the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning.

"I have a grandson that attends a Yonkers elementary school," Brown said. "As a grandmother, you feel such pain in trying to come to grips with what happened."

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Brown and others also pondered how the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, could have reached a point in his life where he would embark on a shooting spree targeting small children.

"There are no answers of what was going through that gunman's mind," Brown said. "I don't think anyone would understand."

Carol Masterson, another Yonkers resident, expressed frustration at how killers in past mass shootings -- from the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 to the Aurora, Colo., movie theater attack in July -- tend to fit the same profiles.

"Most of the shooters, they are so alienated from everyone else," she said. "When are we going to reach out to these people? They say he was a loner. It's so very sad. Look at what he did. Could it have been avoided?"

In Dobbs Ferry, the Rev. Dawn Yoon of Aldersgate United Methodist Church said she has Newtown residents in her congregation but no one who lost a loved one in the tragedy. They are devastated, she said of her church members.

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Many are also resolved to act politically to stop more school shootings from occurring, according to Yoon.

"It needs to be addressed, this possession of guns," she said. "The United States is the only country with these massacres. It's just disturbing."

Donald Vitagliano of Dobbs Ferry agreed.

"It's a disaster in our county to have this kind of gun violence," he said.

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