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December 19, 2012

'In Solidarity With Them'



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Jan Mackin. (click for larger version)
Kathy Byrnes's son is seven years old. When she heard of the horrific events last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, her heart bled, like the hearts of parents across the world. On Monday morning, when she returned to work at Windmill Village in East Hampton after the weekend, she said, "Of course we talked about it, and we wanted to do something."

But she and coworker Gerry Mooney felt helpless.

"I wanted to feel a little more connected, like I'm expressing my grief, to let these parents know I'm there in solidarity with them . . . these weren't my children, but they could be."

Byrnes remembered seeing news coverage of a Christmas tree memorial set up in Newtown and with Mooney, conceived the idea of creating a similar memorial in East Hampton Village, on the green near the Hook Mill.

Mayor Paul Rickenbach greenlighted the idea right away. "We called [Village Administrator] Larry Cantwell and he called the mayor who got back to us and said it was a wonderful idea," Byrnes related.

The next task was finding the materials.

"We went to Chris Diamond's over on Gingerbread Lane. He told us we could have a tree for $25. I said, 'We want 26 of them' and he said, 'Take them.'"

Friends assisted with placing the trees. Staff at Sign Language promised to make plaques with the names of each victim inscribed, and Wittendale's Florist on Newtown Lane offered ribbons and bows for each tree. Donated lights were strung on Tuesday morning.

Within hours of the idea's birth, Facebook lit up with expressions of gratitude and praise. Someone came up with the idea of buying 26 identical ornaments, one for each tree, a notion Byrnes hopes catches on.

"I just want to honor them. I don't want it to be forgotten," Byrnes said Monday night. "It was such a horrible tragedy. I felt, the more it's in our faces, the more we'll be thoughtful . . . I just thought it was the right thing to do."

The goal of the memorial, Byrnes feels, is to comfort the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown community, and connect with them. It could be a "good place" for parents to come together to show support for the families of Newtown, Byrnes believes.

Over the course of just one day, the memorial idea took root and blossomed. "It just grew this morning, that's the best way," said Byrnes Monday night. Asked to comment on the nearly-instant outpouring of donations, Byrnes, who is the chairperson of the Board of Directors of the East Hampton Food Pantry wasn't surprised. "It felt great and it was exactly what I expected," she said. "I wasn't worried about how I'd get the trees."

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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