WEIRTON - Area residents packed the lawn in front of Millsop Community Center Wednesday evening for a 90-minute service remembering the youthful victims of a school shooting last week in Connecticut.
Mayor George Kondik called it a "very, very sad day in America ... that we have to come here to have a memorial (service) for 20 children who couldn't defend themselves."
Twenty-six people, including the alleged gunman and his mother, were killed Friday in Newtown, Conn. The victims were 6- and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The school principal, psychologist and teachers also numbered among the dead.
A somber Rose Mark of Weirton listened as the names of the victims of last week's school shootings in Connecticut were called out Wednesday evening during a candlelight service on the lawn in front of Millsop Community Center. The ceremony, organized by Weirton Mayor George Kondik and Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh, featured messages from area clergy and musical selections by local soloists and a children's choir. -- Linda Harris
Memorial-goers penned messages to the friends and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., on Wednesday. The banner, bearing the legend 'Weirton, West Virginia, sends love and prayers to Newtown,' will be sent to the mayor of that town. -- Linda Harris
City officials read prepared comments from state and federal government leaders, including U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling; West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin; and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who said children "should not have to worry about being safe, especially in school."
"It could have been any community in our country," Manchin wrote. "It could have been here, in our home state."
Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse told the crowd it's "like it's our neighbors, like it's our friends" in the carnage.
"We weep for Newtown," he said.
The Rev. Jim Rhodes of Mercy Baptist Church said Christmas "is supposed to be a time of joy."
"Instead we're trying to forget about something we never will," he said.
The Rev. Larry Dorsch of St. Paul Church said there's "something about this particular tragedy that's different, more poignant."
"Could it be that at last we have all had enough, that we're sick and tired of all the violence and all of the death?" he asked, adding the victims "may have died horribly, tragically, but they need not have died in vain. It depends on how sick and tired we really are."
The Rev. Ed Rudiger of Cove Presbyterian Church said faith doesn't always bring exact answers, "but it helps me live with some of the questions," while Chamber of Commerce President Brenda Mull said the Newtown community "has a long road to haul ahead of them."
"I hope it helps in some small way to know the community of Weirton, W.Va., is praying for them tonight," she said.
"They are us," the Rev. Manuel Galido of St. Joseph the Worker and Sacred Heart of Mary, said. "They're our teachers, they're our parents, they're our friends and neighbors."
Weirton resident Leah Crow also read a letter from Steve and Lisa Battista Petrovich, Weirton natives who moved to Newtown 18 years ago and whose children had attended the school, while the Rev. Jim Foglio of Weirton Covenant Church, said it's a time to pray for the victims and their families. The Rev. Craig Greathouse of the Family of God Christian Center offered the closing prayer.
The evening included musical selections by soloist Bonnie Flemmer of Covenant Church, the St. Paul Church junior choir and youth soloist Claire Stewart. Candles were lit for each of the victims as their names were announced, and after the service ended, residents stood in line to pen words of encouragement on a plus-sized banner declaring "Weirton, West Virginia, sends its love and prayers to Newtown."
The event was organized by Kondik and Ward 3 Councilman Fred Marsh.