Carean Dendy of Tupelo’s First United Methodist Church distributed the church’s hand bells to be rung with the reading of each victim’s name – 20 children and six adult staff members.
“This tragedy has affected the entire nation,” Dendy said to the crowd. “To see this list of names makes it real.”
Some 50 Tupelo residents joined her in a moment of prayer before the reading of the names, followed by a moment of silence. Gov. Phil Bryant had earlier issued a proclamation calling for a statewide moment of silence at 9:30 a.m.
Some of the attendees brought their children, out of school on Christmas break, and held them close.
“It’s especially hard because of the holiday season. We never think these things can happen where we live,” Dendy said.
The commemoration mirrored others being held around the country. One attendee, Mary Katherine Spencer, is involved with the organization Survival Incorporated, a non-profit victim’s advocacy group that helps people cope with the effects of homicide.
“Services like this are good because people affected by these events are usually isolated,” she said. “People avoid them because they don’t know what to say, but because there have been so many shootings, people are more likely to reach out.”
Though a simple bell-ringing on a cold weekday morning may not seem to do much to console the community of Newtown, Conn., some attendees believed just being present provided comfort.
“What can you say to make it better?” asked attendee Jo Lindsey. “Nothing. You can only be willing to be a phone call away from someone who needs to talk. I feel like the whole country is doing that for Newtown.”
For others, the small-city setting of Newtown rang as eerily similar to Tupelo. Audience member Cotanna Purnell felt confident in the ability of Tupelo’s schools to provide a safe environment for the city’s young.
“Tupelo school’s resource officers are a big help in making parents feel comfortable,” she said. “It’s a sign that our community as a whole is protective of our children, because they are our future.”
Dendy said she began organizing the event yesterday morning, putting the word out on Facebook, where it received positive support.
“The whole thing took about five minutes to organize,” Dendy said. “I contacted the Downtown Mainstreet organization and the mayor’s office. Both were very eager to get involved.”