Chimes, sobs as bell tolls for everyone killed in Newtown

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, center, observes a moment of silence with other officials in Newtown, Conn. Statewide bell-ringing honored the dead.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, center, observes a moment of silence with other officials in Newtown, Conn. Statewide bell-ringing honored the dead.

NEWTOWN, Conn. — First a chime, then a sob.

This is how Newtown United Methodist Church began a short remembrance of victims killed in a horrific school shooting exactly a week earlier at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 14.

The first deep peals here sounded when the Rev. Mel Kawakami pulled a rope in the church vestibule. The chimes signaled to other churches statewide to ring their bells too. Newtown United Methodist Church, a half mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, was the first.

A succession of four church leaders rang the bell 28 times in quick succession. Twenty chimes were for the children who died; six were for the adult staff members; one was for Nancy Lanza, whose son shot her in her bed; and one was for the troubled 20-year-old who unleashed violence on his community.

Numerous memorials in Newtown and surrounding areas honor 26 victims, leaving out the shooter and his mother, owner of the guns used in the rampage, but church leaders here wanted to remember them too.

“We are all God’s children, and God loves everyone,” said Jay Thomas, who lived in McMurray, Pa., until 1993, when he moved to Newtown and became a member of church leadership here.

About 80 people were inside the sanctuary for the bell-ringing. Those who managed to keep their eyes dry during the bell ringing could no longer hold their tears when an alto soloist sang “Amazing Grace” from the balcony.

“It was just a week ago when we began this dark night,” Reverend Kawakami told the gathered prayerful, some of whom came from as far as North Carolina and Costa Rica to mourn with the 27,000 people of Newtown.

Rustling could be heard in the pews as parishioners fished tissues out of small packets.

“It was but one week ago when we could not have known … how our lives would be turned upside down. We could not have known the grief that we would feel,” he said.

Friday night, Reverend Kawakami noted, had the year’s longest period of darkness. “That means that each day now will be a little longer. Each day the sun will come out for a little longer, and each day the light will be with us a little longer.”

Parishioners said they have hope that the days will get easier but that hasn’t happened yet.

The Rev. Kyle Burrows, a pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Sampson County, North Carolina, said he’s been telling his parishioners that lamenting is part of the grieving process, but so is hoping.

Reverend Burrows was at the bell-ringing Friday, having driven 13 hours Thursday to deliver rose bushes his parish bought for Newtown — one for each family, two for first responders, two for the Sandy Hook school, and two for the fire department where families of survivors gathered to collect their children last Friday morning.

“God put it in our hearts that we had to make it known to the people here that we love them and care for them in the cotton fields and tobacco fields of North Carolina. This has affected everybody,” he said.

Before the service, Reverend Burrows tearfully telephoned his 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter to tell them he’d be home Friday night.

“I feel blessed,” he said after hanging up. “As a parent I can’t comprehend this. A week ago last night, the parents here tucked their children into bed for the last time.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is Washington bureau chief for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tracie Mauriello at:, or 703-996-9292.