BR ceremony honors Conn. victims

Dean Vicknair was stuck in a nightmare Friday night in which he was sitting with a family whose children died in Friday’s elementary school shooting in Connecticut.

“We were sitting around the Christmas tree,” Vicknair said of the nightmare. “They were crying and waiting for the children to come open the presents.”

When Vicknair finally woke up, he realized he needed to find a way to honor the slain victims.

His efforts, along with those of political action group MoveOn.org and UniteWomen.org, resulted in a candlelight memorial ceremony Saturday night at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge on Goodwood Boulevard.

Vicknair, a volunteer for MoveOn.org, said the ceremony both honored the children whose lives were lost and helped relaunch the debate about gun control laws in the United States.

“In the past years, everyone has said, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow.’ Well, tomorrow never comes,” Vicknair said.

Twenty-six people — 20 children and six adults at the school — were killed Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. before the shooter, reportedly 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed himself. In addition to the shootings at the school, Lanza reportedly killed his mother at home.

Emily Chance, director of the Louisiana chapter of women’s rights group UniteWomen.org, said her organization wanted to host a memorial ceremony because domestic violence and gun violence issues go hand-in-hand.

“It is a good time to talk about it,” Chance said. “We believe that there needs to be a really strong light shone on how we can sensibly talk about gun violence.”

The Unitarian Church hosted a gun violence conference in October, 20 years after Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro “Yoshi” Hattori was shot and killed after stopping at the wrong house while trying to find a Halloween party in Central.

The church is the site of peace stones from Japan in honor of Hattori and all victims slain by guns.

Richard and Holley Haymaker, members of the Unitarian Church, hosted Hattori when he lived in Baton Rouge. They became outspoken advocates of gun control following his death.

The ceremony began with the roughly 50 people there gathering in a circle around the peace stones.

The Rev. Steve J. Crump, minister of the Unitarian Church, said horrific shootings “wake us all up” briefly before people stop paying attention — until the next violent tragedy happens.

“I’m going to predict we’ll go to sleep again, and we’ll move on to something else — that is, if history is a predictor of what we will do,” Crump told the crowd. “Unless, of course, just a few demand changes.”

After Crump’s speech, the crowd gathered close to light candles. As all the candles were placed on an altar near the stones, a bright light shone in the middle of the darkness.

Brian Breen and Dawn Davis took their 2-year-old daughter Madeline Breen to the ceremony.

Brian Breen said it’s difficult to fathom the situation as a parent himself.

“You automatically put yourself into that situation,” he said. “I’m just tired of this. It’s just a pattern that keeps repeating.”

Don Hoppe, a Unitarian Church member, wore a yellow shirt to the ceremony in honor of Sandy Hook’s school colors, yellow and blue.

Hoppe said he wanted to join with other people to feel a sense of connection in light of the tragedy.

“We feel so helpless,” Hoppe said. “There’s nothing we can do but pull together and join our hearts.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.