Published December 24. 2012 4:00AM Updated December 24. 2012 11:40PM
Stonington - Clutching his two young granddaughters at his side Sunday night, Superintendent of Schools Van Riley read the names of the 20 children and six adults killed in Newtown.
As he read the names, referring to the young victims as "the angels of Newtown," a glow slowly spread among several hundred people gathered at Owens Field as friends and families helped light each other's candles for the show of solidarity.
Riley said that when asked by his granddaughters, Charlotte, 8, and Isabella, 13, about Newtown, "I had no way to explain what had happened." Few would be able find words to explain the why, he said.
"If there is anything we can do right now, it is to hug the ones closest to us," was his message.
Sunday's vigil was one of numerous events being held simultaneously across the state, including ones in East Lyme and Waterford.
The Stonington event, an hour of tributes, songs and prayers, was organized by the Stonington Community Center and St. Edmund's Retreat on Enders Island. Beth-Ann Stewart, the executive director of the community center, said it was a sense of community that brought people together. The tragedy, she said, could help to renew people's sense of commitment "to make a difference in our world."
"Although we gather with broken hearts tonight, we come together to honor those who were lost - to heal as a community," she told those gathered on the soccer field.
The Rev. W. Alfred Tisdale Jr., the rector of Calvary Church, said at this time of the year, the only concerns the young children of Sandy Hook Elementary School should have had was when was vacation starting and what would Santa bring for Christmas.
He and others also recognized the "sacrificial acts," of teachers and staff at the school who had in some cases given their lives to protect the children "in the midst of evil acts."
Sen. Andrew Maynard of Stonington said Newtown is not so unlike the community here, making it easy to relate to the suffering. But it offered an opportunity to stand together and reflect on the preciousness of life, he said.
"These children were all our children," said State Rep. Diana Urban. "We will remember them. They are now part of us."
Sunday's crowd had gathered close to a row of candelabras laid out in the field in the shape of a heart.
The candelabras, along with the candles handed out to the crowd, was the work of the Stonington Community Center's junior leaders and Stonington High School Friends of Rachel Club, a youth volunteer program. The nationwide Rachel Club is a group formed in memory of Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old who was the first of 12 victims in the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.