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Speakers at prayer vigil urge greater protection for children
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Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers lights one of 20 candles — one for each child killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut a week ago — at Thursday’s vigil at Martinsville Middle School. About 170 people attended the gathering. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Friday, December 21, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

At a prayer vigil Thursday night, speaker after speaker expressed compassion for and solidarity with the people of Newtown, Conn., but said the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have happened anywhere, even here.

Speakers said this community needs to work harder to protect children; for nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation; and to respect and embrace one another’s differences.

An estimated 170 people attended the prayer vigil, which was in the Martinsville Middle School auditorium.

“It touched me a lot,” said Marvin Rakes of Ridgeway, who was in the audience. “I am a concerned grandparent.”

“One of those children could have very easily been one of mine. My heart goes out to Newtown,” he said.

He attended with his wife, Julia, and their daughter and son-in-law, Lynn and Scott Divers, and their children, Gabriel, 9, and Ariel, 3. Gabriel was one of the Scouts involved in the program.

“I sat on my couch and cried two or three days,” Lynn Divers said. “It’s like their future was stolen,” she said of the Newtown shooting victims — 20 children and six adults — and their grieving families.

“It’s good for this community to come together,” she said of the prayer vigil. “We find comfort in each other.”

The event began with a processional of dozens of prayer vigil participants, the posting of the colors by Magna Vista High School JROTC and the Pledge of Allegiance led by more than a dozen Cub and Boy Scouts.

In his invocation, the Rev. Thomas Penn prayed for safety and that calm heads may prevail. He also prayed that God “will guide each of us and make a safer community.”

The Rev. Steve Garner, president of the Henry County and Martinsville Ministerial Association, said the prayer vigil was held to remember the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, to show compassion for the people of Newtown and to be a catalyst for ongoing community discussions. The ministerial association sponsored the prayer vigil.

The Rev. Jane Johnson sang “Let There Be Peace,” which contains the lines “Let peace begin with me” and “Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.”

“This has struck emotion. ... It strikes deep when there are children victims,” said Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry.

He described some security precautions local law enforcement and schools have taken to protect children here, and he urged the public to take a stand. “If you see someone acting recklessly and expressing anger or threats of violence, take a stand to stop it,” he said. He also cited the need to help people develop coping skills.

The Revs. Keith Spangenberg, Debra Turner and Ken Davis and Chaplain Bonnylee Witt all read litanies during the program. During Witt’s litany, she also read the names of the 26 victims and their photos were projected.

Jim Tobin, executive director of Piedmont Community Services, said, “As a community we are called to embrace people with difficulties” and people who are marginalized. He said at the vigil and in an interview that he thinks it was a great disservice for news media to superficially assign the cause of the shootings to mental illness when shooter Adam Lanza had a developmental delay, which is quite different than mental illness.

Tobin said that increases the stigma against people who struggle with true mental illness, who are “far, far more likely” to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins said what happened in Newtown could have happened anywhere, but she breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t here. She said she shares the grief with the people of Newtown.

She urged the public to take part in “the thoughtful discussions” that will take place at upcoming monthly community meetings that are planned. The first one is set for 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School.

The vigil was an opportunity to celebrate random acts of kindness that are occurring across the country, Adkins said. People should do random acts of kindness on a daily basis, she said, adding that is how Newtown and other communities will heal.

Martinsville City Councilman Mark Stroud described the shootings as “a piece of evil” and said he grieves for Newtown.

“We should be ever vigilant” in caring for one another, he said. “No parent should have to bury a child.”

Henry County Supervisor Joe Bryant, who represents the Collinsville District, said he spoke for the supervisors when he said, “... we are saddened by this.”

“I don’t know anyone out there who didn’t shed a tear,” he said, adding that this community needs to look for ways to try to keep such a tragedy from happening here.

Jared Cotton, superintendent of Henry County Schools, said he and Pam Heath, superintendent of Martinsville Schools, who was standing beside him, were both “disheartened.” He said educators have dedicated their lives to children, and they were shocked and saddened by the Newtown shootings.

How did this happen? Why did this happen? How can it be prevented from happening? he asked.

Local schools have strong crisis plans, conduct drills and have parental and community support, but more is needed in each of those areas, Cotton said. “It takes all of us working together,” he said.

He read a quotation about children by Pablo Casals, the cellist and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. It says in part: “Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. ... You have the capacity for anything. ... And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

Cotton added, “We are going to do everything in our power to protect our children from harm.”

Heath said every night she says a prayer thanking God that thousands of children and adults got home from school safely that day.

She feels a depth of sadness, helplessness in some ways and feels pain for the families of Newtown, she said, noting that things that happened can’t be changed, and people “must carry on.”

She said adults must be brave and strong to make children feel safe. People also need to show compassion for one another, she said, adding that many children have lost parents and vice versa.

She also cited the need for public awareness to help address the problem of violence.

Dr. Lee Hagwood urged those attending to seek help when they face challenging life issues.

He called the Newtown shootings “a slaughter” and said: “There are no words or explanations to justify the actions of Adam Lanza (the shooter). God was not responsible nor (does God) endorse murder of any individual.”

Hagwood asked how people can live in community amid danger? He referred to biblical passages which urge encouragement, comfort from love, affection, sympathy, being in full accord and of one mind, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than yourselves.

After the benediction by Dr. Dennis Knight, those attending were invited to sign their names and write notes on posters bearing photos of the Newtown shooting victims. The posters will be mailed to Newtown.


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