SALISBURY — Dozens of people stood in sombre silence Sunday evening during a candlelight vigil held by the Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church.
Some wiped tears from their eyes as the names of the 27 victims, 20 of which were students at Sandy Hook Elementary School, from the Newtown, Conn. shooting were read, others simply stared into the dark, damp night.
The vigil ended on a hopeful note, as they sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth” a cappella.
“I think when very painful things happen there’s a real desire to connect with your fellow human beings, that’s the most healing thing to do,” said Susan Jensen.
Jensen said Friday’s mass shooting reminded her of the way she felt during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It was that same awful feeling of ‘Is this really happening,’” she said. “We have no control over something like this, that’s God’s business and in that situation people can be very fearful and build walls.
“This is a wonderful way to actually open up rather than building walls.”
Church member Teresa Rowell said Sunday’s vigil recharged her.
“You feel so helpless and hopeless,” she said. “At the very least we can come together with other people who are all feeling that same sadness and pain to at least know we’re not alone.”
Joanne Stewart said the fact that her church took the time out to commemorate the tragedy was meaningful to her.
“I think everyone just felt such loss,” she said. “We don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say, we don’t even hardly know how to express it to each other, but just being able to be together is a good place to start.”
Although her children are adults now, Stewart said she still feels the same sense of protection over them she did when they were young.
“You never stop being a mom, you never stop thinking of your children as helpless little children,” she said. “It was just so easy for me to put myself in the place of those mothers and fathers.”
Church member Shakeisha Gray said the shooting hit close to home because she has a kindergartner, middle schooler and high schooler.
“Our two oldest kids are very aware of the situation, they understand and have a lot of questions,” she said.
But Gray said she doesn’t have the answers to questions like “Why would he do something like this?”
“Not having an answer is not something kids expect for their parents,” she said.
Gray said they’ve told their youngest son that something bad happened in Connecticut, but at the tender age of 5 years old it’s impossible to explain.
Elizabeth Satterwhite said the incident made her reflect on her own life.
“It really does make you think about how fragile your life is,” she said. “Sometimes you just feel so invincible, like nothing can stop you and you have all these plans for your life,” she said. “And for me it just made me kind of sit back and realize how quickly that can change.”
Tanner said the church’s Salisbury and Charlotte congregations hosted vigils at the same time Sunday, inviting members of the community to join them.
Several members of Temple Israel, where the Salisbury group meets, showed up.
“At times like this it’s really important that we all have a place to gather so that we can remember in dark days that light is still kindled again and again,” Tanner said.
Although the local residents didn’t have a direct connection to the shooting, Tanner said it reminds everyone of how deeply connected they are as “one human family.”
“There are people who are very angry, people who are very fearful and then there’s just this overwhelming sense of sadness and grief, but beneath all that I do think there is a deep abiding love that reaches out.”
Tanner’s message of the night was “Love each other, hold each other, life is fragile.”