WESTMINSTER -- Twenty-six lives were cut short during last week's shooting rampage at Sandy Brook Elementary School.
News of the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., devastated the nation and even President Obama said he was addressing the tragedy not as a commander-in-chief, but as a parent. For Vermonters, the incident hit closer to home than similar ones in Colorado and Virginia.
And some people in Westminster wanted to dedicate a Christmas season tradition to the 20 children and six adults murdered in Connecticut. Peter Terrell and Diane Bazin are encouraging their friends and neighbors to come out and each light 26 candles for the victims on Christmas Eve.
The luminary, Terrell said, was started more than 20 years ago and boasted 500 candles the first year. He said roughly 1,700 are now lit.
He said he lived near Newtown, in Oxford, Conn., for 50 years and is very familiar with the area. As a father and grandfather, he like many others watched in horror as the death toll at the elementary school climbed and climbed a week ago today.
"It really bothered me, as I'm sure it did every American," he said. As the director of maintenance at Westminster Center School, he regularly sees faces just like those of the 20 murdered children.
He said the candles are placed in bags and laid about six feet apart along US Route 5, as well as on Grout Avenue and School Street. Bazin, who took over the community luminary about 10 years ago, said the area looks like a long airport runway when the candles are illuminated and they form a crucifix when looked at from a bird's-eye view.
She said the candles will be placed in their spots at 9 a.m. and everyone will meet at the Westminster Fire Station at 3 p.m. before lighting the wicks.
The mother and grandmother said dedicating the lighting to the shooting victims seemed like a wonderful idea.
"We, as parents, cannot begin to imagine what is going through their minds," she said, referring to the mothers and fathers of the children killed. "Hopefully, each time a candle is lit, it will brighten up that sadness that's in these parents' hearts."
She said the candles signify both the light of Jesus Christ and the bond that communities feel when something tragic happens.
The lighting has a proud history in Westminster and Bazin said last year a man told her he has driven through the town to see the candles every Christmas Eve for the past 20 years.
Terrell said parking will be available at the Westminster Institute, the First Congregational Church and Westminster Center School.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.