Since the day of the tragic killings in Newtown, Conn on Dec. 14, much of the nation has found a way to pay tribute to the 20 children and eight teachers who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The National Football League held a moment of silence for them on Dec 16, as did the While House on Dec. 21. Schools, families and individuals have sent letters, flowers, cards, songs and poems.
Shaken by the seemingly senseless slayings, a Mar Vista woman decided to put together a local event to offer an outlet to those on the Westside who wish to express their feelings about the shootings.
Mia Collins organized the “Candles for America” vigil, which took place at the Mar Vista Recreation Center on Dec. 22. Collins, a life-long Mar Vista resident, decided that she wanted to do something to honor the victims of the killings after being encouraged by a friend.
“My grandchildren are the same age as some of the young victims (in Newtown),” Duncan told The Argonaut the day before the vigil.
She wanted the vigil to be similar to Hands Across America, a May 25, 1986 public event in which an estimated 6.5 million people held hands for 15 minutes in a human chain to fight hunger and homelessness.
Hands Across America raised $34 million.
Duncan tried to synchronize with other groups around the country so that everyone would light a candle, beginning at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.
The turnout was large, with singers honoring the children with songs and others reciting poems and reading heartfelt messages to the people of Newtown.
Albert Olson said he was not planning to attend the vigil, even though he thinks what happened in Newtown was tragic.
“Although I feel nothing but sadness and sympathy for all those affected by the Newtown killings, I’m not sure what would actually be accomplished by such a candlelight vigil,” said Olson, a co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Education Culture and Arts Committee.
“I certainly am not opposed to it. I just don’t quite see how this is helping those in Newtown whose lives were devastated.”
Sarah Auerswald, another Mar Vista resident, supported the idea of holding an event to memorialize the Newtown victims.
“I think the vigil is a wonderful and moving idea to honor the victims,” she said. “I think there have been many moving tributes to them and I think this is a great opportunity to have a conversation about stopping gun violence in this country, not just the massacres, of course, but all the daily gun violence, especially when children are the victims.
“I was devastated when I heard the news of the shooting and every time I hear a news story about one of the funerals for a 6-year-old, I weep all over again,” Auerswald continued. “It’s terrifying to me as a mom to think my children might not be safe at school, and my heart goes out to all the families who felt that tragedy. I can’t even imagine.”
LAUSD Board Member Steven Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, issued his own statements about the Sandy Hook killings.
“For those of us who have dedicated our lives to teaching and protecting children, (the) massacre was a fracture in the sacred contract between parents and school staff. Every day at the school house gate we commit to teach children well, to keep children safe and to nourish their hopes and dreams,” he wrote. “That is why we teach, counsel, and serve. And that is why we trust our public schools. That trust teeters as we despair over this tragedy.”
Duncan said she has largely tried to shield her grandchildren, whom she is raising, from what happened at Sandy Hook. “It’s one of those touchy subjects,” she acknowledged. “You really can’t prepare a child of that age for this type of news.”
Dr. Stephanie Mihalas, a licensed child psychologist and nationally certified school psychologist who does research on school violence and aggression, supports the idea of not engaging them in conversation about traumatic events like the Newtown killings if they do not inquire about it or have not heard about them.
But she does not agree that parents should ignore the inquiries of youngsters who are curious about these types of events.
“If the child has heard about it, it is important to address what their worst fear is,” Mihalas recommends. “It is important that parents make sure that the child knows that you are going to keep them safe.
“There should not be a code of silence.”
Auerswald, who has a local blog called Mar Vista Mom, said she talked with her two sons after they learned about the shootings.
“My kids have heard bits and pieces about the shooting, both on the news and from me, and we’ve been discussing guns and safety, but I haven’t really told them every detail,” she said. “While I want them to know what happened, at the same time I don’t want them to lose a sense of safety.
“I know many parents are struggling right now with how and how much to tell their kids, and that’s what I’ve felt was the right amount so far.”
Mihalas said the best times to discuss incidents like these if children are aware of them is during mealtime, in the car and at bedtime.
Zimmer said he expects conversations about security to continue when schools reopen Jan. 7.
“In the coming days and weeks, you will hear more about LAUSD’s comprehensive response to the Newtown tragedy. Our preparations will be in place when schools resume in January,” he said.
“But we must go beyond protection and deterrence,” Zimmer added. “Prevention and intervention are the cornerstones of the programs that work to bring support and safety into our classrooms. The full implementation of research driven programs for social and emotional learning is just as important as any math or literacy program.”
There have been similar actions to the one that Duncan planned to honor the Newtown victims.
In Northampton, Mass, on Dec. 20, two days before the Mar Vista event, a candlelight vigil was held by students and teachers of Smith Vocational High School.
On Dec. 23, an organization called Citizens Against Crime held a similar event residents in west Seattle gathered in a park at the same time as Mar Vista’s vigil was taking place.