Playgrounds honoring Newtown victims take shape

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2013 at 11:21 am •  Published: June 13, 2013
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Six months after the school shooting in Newtown, 26 playgrounds are taking shape around the region, showcasing each of the victim's likes and interests — everything from the moon to flamingos.

The families of the 20 children and six educators killed inside Sandy Hook Elementary School have agreed to participate in the project, led by a New Jersey firefighters union. For some, it has been a way to channel their grief as they prepare to mark half a year without their loved ones.

Some of the families and local officials are expected to attend a remembrance Friday morning in Newtown, where a moment of silence is to be followed by a rally for measures in Congress to curb gun violence.

A forecast for heavy rain forced a one-day postponement in a ribbon-cutting that had been planned Friday at a playground dedicated to 6-year-old Dylan Hockley at Long Lots Elementary School in Westport. Ground also will be broken Saturday for a playground at a school in Stratford in honor of Vicki Soto, a 27-year-old first-grade teacher.

The playgrounds are the fourth and fifth being built as part of the Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play, an effort spearheaded by the Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association of New Jersey. Most are planned for communities in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, linking the two tragedies that have a name in common.

For Dylan's family, watching his 8-year-old brother Jake break a rare smile while helping to build the playground was comforting.

"Jake was right in there. He dug the first shovelful, and he was working in the Bobcat and was acting as the foreman, helping direct the team," Ian Hockley said. "I heard him tell a (television) station that this will honor Dylan. To be able to think about this project in that way, I think is very helpful to him."

The design of Dylan's purple playground features the moon and butterflies, two things he loved. Dylan, who had autism, liked to flap his arms and told his mother he was a butterfly. Educational signs will describe the stages of a butterfly's life, and it will incorporate big butterflies on poles and at the top of a slide, said Bill Lavin, president of the firefighters union. The symbol for autism awareness is also part of the design, Lavin said.

Soto's playground in Stratford, next door to Newtown, will be pink and have a flamingo theme.

"If Vicki could have had flamingos as a pet, I think she would have," said sister Jillian Soto, 24. "It's such a positive thing they are doing, they are bringing joy. My family is going to be there to help set this up and be a part of this."

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