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Hundreds Pack Connecticut Churches For Prayer Vigils After Newtown Rampage

NEWTOWN, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A vigil for the victims of the elementary school massacre in Connecticut brought out hundreds of community members Friday night, including some parents who were struggling with mixed emotions after their own children survived the massacre.

With the church filled to capacity, hundreds of people spilled outside, some of them holding hands in circles and saying prayers. Others lit prayer candles and sang "Silent Night."

At the vigil, the priest said the altar holds 26 candles, all of which were lit in memory of the victims. Lyrics of the last hymn of the ceremony rang out: "I will raise him up on eagle's wings."

The parish priest, Robert Weiss, said he spent much of Friday with victims of the families, but he could not give them any answers about what happened.

"I know that people say 'Why did God allow this to happen?' This was not the hand of God. This was the hand of a person who had issues," Weiss told reporters, including CBS 2's Derricke Dennis.

Words of comfort during the service also came from a world away -- a letter from Pope Benedict XVI was read aloud.

"In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy, I ask God our Father to console all those who mourn and to sustain the entire community with the spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love," Weiss read.

Governor Dannel Malloy was among the speakers at the service inside the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic church.

"Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason," Malloy said.

The residents were gathered to mourn those killed Friday, when a man killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary, killing 26 people, including 20 children, as youngsters cowered in fear to the sound of gunshots reverberating through the building and screams echoing over the intercom.

"I didn't have to know them, and I'm still here for them. I have children. I couldn't fathom that," Jenni Torres said.

The 20-year-old killer, carrying at least two handguns, committed suicide at the school, bringing the death toll to 28, authorities said.

Tracy Hoekenga said at the vigil that after receiving word of the shooting she was paralyzed with fear for her two boys, fourth-grader C.J. and second grader Matthew.

"I couldn't breathe. It's indescribable. For a half an hour, 45 minutes, I had no idea if my kids were OK," she said.

She said she was wrestling with many emotions as she attended the vigil.

Her son, Matthew, said a teacher ordered students to their cubbies and a police officer came and told them to line up and close their eyes.

"They said there could be bad staff. So we closed our eyes and we went out. When we opened our eyes, we saw a lot of broken glass and blood on the ground," the boy said.

David Connors, the father of three triplets at the school, said at the vigil that his children were taken into a closet during the lockdown.

"My son said he did hear some gunshots, as many as 10," he said. "The questions are starting to come out. 'Are we safe? Is the bad guy gone?'"

There was also another vigil held at Newtown United Methodist Church on Friday night. Frederick Silva said he stopped by from two towns away to mourn with the community.

1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon Reports


"I have a 5-year-old," he told 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon. "Honestly, the whole world needs to pull together -- enough is enough.  How many more babies need to die?"

Many people in the community said they are afraid the horrible nightmare will get even worse if and when they realize they know someone who was affected.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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