By Christopher Smith
“Do not stand at my grave and weep, I am not there.”
Erik Garcia, 13, read those lines from a poem as students and faculty members of Eastbrook Middle School sat in the school courtyard Wednesday morning.
The crowd gathered to honor 26 victims who were shot and killed last Friday when an armed man went on a shooting spree inside Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Several students in the crowd were silent; others cried quietly.
“When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush,” Garcia continued. “Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there. I did not die.”
Rocio Soto-Gomez, 12, and Saira Carrillo, 13, then listed the names of 27 killed: six adults, 20 children and the gunman’s mother, who was shot prior to the massacre. Twenty-six doves were released from a container at the end of the ceremony, flying over the courtyard and away from Eastbrook Middle, symbolizing those killed at the school.
“The ceremony was very beautiful,” Rodrigo Paramo, 13, said. “I didn’t hear about the shooting till the day after it happened. It was really messed up what that guy did. They were just little kids.”
Kaleigh Pittman, 13, said she is “glad to feel safe at my school.”
“I don’t understand why someone would do that — go into a school and shoot people,” she added. “It was very sad, even though it happened a thousand miles from us.”
After the doves were released, Johnnie Sue, a local singer, sang “God Bless America” as several students stood up. When the ceremony was over, Rocio Soto-Gomez said she was “ready for school to be over for awhile.”
“I’m ready for the break, too,” Rodrigo Paramo added. “I’m very thankful for the teachers, though. I’m glad the school did something like this, but I want to go home and see my family.”
Principal George Kopcsak said he believes students at Eastbrook are reacting to the shooting with “a lot of empathy.”
“I’m very proud of the students here,” he said. “It’s scary and there’s a lot of angst and fear right now in schools, but our students are turning fear into something meaningful.”
Eastbrook students were released for winter break at noon. Several, like Rodrigo Paramo, say they plan to spend extra time with family and friends because of the tragedy.
A list of the victims in Connecticut as read by Eastbrook Middle School students Rocio Soto-Gomez and Saira Carrillo: Charlotte Bacon, 6, Rachel D’Avino, 29, Olivia Engel, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, Jesse Lewis, 6, Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Emilie Parker, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27, Daniel Barden, 7, Josephine Gay, 7, Madeleine Hsu, 6, Catherine Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, James Mattioli, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, Allison Wyatt, 6, and Nancy Lanza, the gunman’s mother.