Middle Georgians gather for vigil in memory of Newtown shooting victims

pramati@macon.comDecember 19, 2012 

  • Second vigil planned

    At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Crest Lawn Funeral Home, at 3275 Pio Nono Ave., will host a service in its chapel in the memory of those killed in the Newtown, Conn., school shootings last week. The Rev. Ed Chambless, associate pastor of Mikado Baptist Church, will offer a message. Those on hand will sing “Jesus Loves Me,” and the Rev. Mark Magoni, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, will also provide a message and prayer.
    Amanda Lucas, Crest Lawn’s funeral director, said the idea for the service came to her soon after the attack that left 20 students and six educators dead. She approached the funeral home’s managers and owners, got their approval and “since then we’ve been planning everything.” At the end of the service, the names of the shooting victims will be displayed as “Home” by Nicol Sponburg plays. After the service, about 7 p.m., the congregation will go outside and release white balloons in memory of the slain students and educators.

Some 150 Middle Georgians filled Rosa Parks Square on Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil in memory of the victims of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre last week.

The idea for the vigil came from Macon City Council member Frank Tompkins, who thought of it together with a friend, Rhonda Mallory, after the topic of the mass shootings was discussed during a church service. Tompkins then proposed the idea to Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, who approved having the vigil.

Many of the people in attendance Wednesday said they were there to show whatever support they could for the family of the victims.

“I have children and grandchildren,” said Patricia Young of Macon.

“I feel so much empathy for those families, especially this time of year. It’s such a terrible thing to happen any time of the year, but especially around the holidays. I’d love to do more -- this is the least I can do.”

Ashley Wooley of Monroe County brought her two children, Connor, 7, and Haylee, 4, to the event. She said when she saw the news reports about the shooting, she noticed how close the child victims were in age to her children.

Wooley said her children watch the news often and are aware of what was happening in Newtown. She said she didn’t worry about a similar occurrence at her children’s school, T.G. Scott Elementary.

“I think we have a great school system (in Monroe County),” she said.

Reichert said he hoped that the vigil would not only bring the local community closer together, but also show people in Newtown that the community was showing its support.

“I hope there’s a feeling of unity both here locally and, somehow, to Newtown, Conn., to band our spirits together in common prayer,” he said.

Reichert said he wants to see local law enforcement, the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency and the Bibb County school system work together to try to prevent a similar tragedy from happening here.

“The BOE police certainly have procedures, but we’re getting a new sheriff and there’s a new BOE police chief. It never hurts to review things. Hopefully, we’ll never have to use them.”

The Rev. Ronald Terry and council members Henry Ficklin and Larry Schlesinger led those in attendance in prayer, while Tompkins oversaw the candle-lighting part of the program, in which local children held 20 candles in memory of the children who died during the shootings. Ficklin, Schlesinger and council members Elaine Lucas, Virgil Watkins, Rick Hutto and Tom Ellington held candles in memory of the school staff who were killed. A candle also was lit for Nancy Lanza, the mother of shooter Adam Lanza.

One of the people in attendance most affected by the shooting is local chiropractor Lori Ugolik, who was born and raised in Newtown. Ugolik said she was making Christmas cards Friday when her mother called her with the news.

“I never, in a million years, expected (that news),” Ugolik said.

Ugolik said she called friends in Newtown to see if their families were directly impacted by the shooting. She knew at least one of the first-responders on the scene.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”

Ugolik said it’s especially surprising such an event would happen in Newtown, because the city has very little crime.

“It’s a friendly town,” she said. “I think we’ve had four murders in 49 years. It’s the sort of town where people leave their doors open. ... It’s not like the crime down here.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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