BEECH BOTTOM - Mayor George Lewis noted there are a few connections between Brooke County and Newtown, Conn., where 26 children and adults were killed last week.
Six-year-old Caroline Previdi is the daughter of Jeff Previdi, a 1994 graduate of Bethany College, and her name was among those printed on crosses posted by luminaria lit for a candlelight vigil outside the Beech Bottom Municipal Building Wednesday.
Lewis said former Beech Bottom resident Carol Geho Dwyer has grandchildren who once attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, and resident Hubert Headon has grandchildren who attend Sandy Hook High School.
At a candlelight vigil Wednesday, Beech Bottom residents were invited to offer prayers while passing luminaria and crosses bearing the names of 26 children and adults killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. -- Warren Scott
But even if there had been no local connection, Beech Bottom officials and residents made it clear that like many, their hearts were with the many who lost loved ones, particularly the parents of the many young children.
Sandy Westfall, leader of the village's Neighborhood Watch program, which organized the vigil with Beech Bottom Council, said when hearing of the children who were killed, "You just want to hug your kids."
She said it doesn't matter that her son and daughter are grown.
Lewis told more than 50 residents from the small community attending the vigil he hoped it would help to bring them peace in coming to terms with the senseless tragedy and that he hopes the families of the victims will one day be able to do the same.
State Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, told attendees he was searching for words of comfort to share with them but realized there are none.
But he added, "Things are only truly hopeless when we lose the courage to struggle together."
At a time when the shootings have reignited debates over firearm restrictions and school security measures, Yost said he prays that "the makers, enforcers and interpreters of laws" will weigh important questions and make wise decisions.
Yost read the names of the 26 victims, and Lewis' wife Judy tapped a bell after each.
Members of the Christian Life Apostolic Church of Beech Bottom praise team sang "Amazing Grace" and "Silent Night."
Jack Skidmore, the group's leader and the father of three, said, "I can't imagine what the kids were thinking, trying to get out of there. But they probably handled it as well as any adults. At least they were together and weren't alone. But there's just no positive spin for this."
Lewis noted school staff members acted quickly to protect the children, and a few died doing that.
"Hopefully none of us will ever have to find the courage and bravery it took for the school's staff to protect the children. These people were true heroes," he said.
The Rev. Larry Wallbrown, pastor of Christian Life Apostolic Church, offered a prayer, asking God to comfort and guide the families of the victims and replace the torment they feel with his peace and love.
Those attending were invited to offer their own prayers as they passed the crosses and luminaria that were placed before the village's veterans monument and not far from its Christmas tree.
Called for comment, Headon said he was among many who were shocked by news of the shooting.
Headon said his grandchildren's high school is a short distance from Sandy Hook Elementary School, but they had attended another elementary school.
"It's such a peaceful area up there. You'd never think anything like that would happen up there."
Headon said, "My son, Stephen, told me there's a lot of community support (for the victims' families). It's a tightknit community."
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)