NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Twenty-six candles — one for each of the victims — flickered on the altar Friday as hundreds of grief-stricken residents gathered for a vigil in memory of the children and staff killed in a shooting rampage at a school in this Connecticut town.
With the church filled to capacity, hundreds spilled outside, holding hands in circles in the cold night air and saying prayers. Others sang "Silent Night" or huddled near the windows of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic church.
"Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason," Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said at the vigil Mass.
The residents were gathered to mourn those whose lives were lost when a 20-year-old man killed his mother at their home, then descended on Sandy Hook Elementary School, opening fire as youngsters cowered in fear amid the sounds of gunshots and screams. Twenty children were among the 26 dead at the school.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, armed with at least two handguns, committed suicide, authorities said.
Even though there were 26 candles on the altar, Monsignor Robert Weiss said it was important to remember everyone who died, including Lanza and his mother.
"Ours is not to judge or to question," he told reporters after the service. "But we are really holding in our hearts especially the children and the staff of the school."
"These 20 children were just beautiful, beautiful children," Weiss said. "These 20 children lit up this community better than all these Christmas lights we have. ... There are a lot brighter stars up there tonight because of these kids."
Weiss said he spent much of the day trying to console those who had lost a child or other family member, adding that he had no answers for their questions of how something so horrible could happen.