The sounds of bagpipes filled the brisk winter air as 20 Amesbury Middle School students and six adults filed into the downtown gazebo on the eve of Valentine’s Day to pay tribute to the victims of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
One by one, the participants hung up heart-shaped ornaments on the city’s Valentine’s Day tree outside Amesbury Public Library.
Each ornament was inscribed with the names of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 red hearts representing the students who lost their lives and six white ones for the slain adults — as well as a message of love and support for the Newtown community.
When they were done, each participant received a candle, and the 50 or so people in attendance took a moment to reflect on the tragedy that occurred two months ago today.
“It’s our responsibility moving forward to celebrate the 20 young lives that were lost and the lives of the six fine adults as well, as we remember Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary School with love and kindness,” School Committee member Peter Hoyt, who served as emcee for the evening, said.
The ceremony was organized earlier this month by Best Foot Forward director Rosemary Werner and the Amesbury Middle School Interact Club, a community service program started earlier this year by the Amesbury Rotary Club.
The program began at 5 p.m. and lasted about 20 minutes. It featured a brief prayer from Rev. James Arrison, pastor of the Methodist Rock Church Amesbury, and a stirring rendition of “God Bless America” by local resident Abigail Nelson at the conclusion.
Mayor Thatcher Kezer described the ceremony as poignant,
Eric Gregoire, the mayor’s chief of staff, added, “I think it accurately described the feelings of the community in wanting to extend our best wishes and our consideration.”
After the ceremony, Hoyt said the heart ornaments, which are laminated to stand up to the elements, would remain on the tree until Feb. 25. He encouraged others to visit the gazebo, read the messages on the ornaments and hang up a message of their own.
Once Feb. 25 passes, the messages will be taken down and delivered to Sandy Hook Elementary School, Hoyt said.