Locals honor Conn. massacre victims

Dozens of mourners gathered in a downtown San Luis Obispo church Friday seeking to come to grips with the “heartbreaking and unfathomable” tragedy that took place a week ago in Newtown, Conn., and trying to pluck hope from a deep pit of grief.

The somber noontime ceremony at the First Presbyterian Church drew clergy and parishioners from several faiths, who sought to honor children and school workers who died last week in one of the nation’s worst mass shootings.

As part of that, they read the names of the slain and lit candles for them.

They offered up prayers as well for the survivors, not just the families but also “the numb, the angry, those who can’t stop crying,” as the Rev. Caroline Hall put it.

But they also tried to make sense of an episode that took the lives of 20 elementary schoolchildren.

It was a horror that, as many speakers said, touched everyone, not just those in the anguished town in which a gunman carried out the massacre.

“It struck the heart of the nation,” said Hall of St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Los Osos. “People are affected wherever they are.”

One parishioner, Rachel Espinosa of Los Osos, said she has a 4-year-old niece and felt the need to pay her respects to those slain in Connecticut.

Members of the San Luis Obispo Ministerial Association and the People of Faith for Justice organized the service, and one of their leitmotifs was their common humanity.

“We are all connected,” said the Rev. Rod Richards of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. “We cannot afford to let that realization slip away from us.”

Rabbi Janice Mehring urged those present to seek healing, help, understanding and love.

“Recovering from the unimaginable takes time,” said the Rev. Richard Karrasch of People of Faith for Justice. “Central to that journey is the spark of hope.”

The brief ceremony was resolutely apolitical, focusing more on tribute, healing and hope.

But several of those present shared thoughts before and after the ceremony about where to proceed.

Espinosa said the nation must pay more attention to mental illness: “Depression and mental illness are everywhere.”

Hall frowned at the notion put forth Friday by the National Rifle Association that all schools should have armed personnel.

“The more guns we have, the more they’re going to be used for killing people,” she said.

Julian Crocker, the county superintendent of schools, also was present and also grimaced at the suggestion of an armed officer at every school site.

“We’re trying to get the guns out of schools,” he said.

Crocker said this past Monday was a tough one for teachers who had to deal with children coming to school after a weekend of nonstop news about children being murdered.

He said the key is to listen to children and deal with their fears individually. Some parents, Crocker said, had sheltered their kids from the news.

He said the goal is “to give all our children a sense of safety.”