Newtown football title brings joy on painful anniversary

National
Mark Barden, Natalie Barden

In this Dec. 3, 2019, photo, Mark Barden and his daughter Natalie Barden hold a photograph of Natalie’s late brother, Daniel, at their home in Newtown, Conn. Daniel died in the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 first graders and six educators. Natalie, 17, is among Newtown students who have grown up to become young voices in the gun violence prevention movement. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Newtown marked the seventh anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School with vigils, church services and a moment of joy when the community’s high school football team — with a shooting victim’s brother as linebacker — won the state championship Saturday in a last-minute thrill.

The Newtown High School Nighthawks won the Class LL state championship on a 36-yard touchdown pass as time expired, beating Darien 13-7. The title was the first for Newtown since 1992. The team ends the season undefeated.

Ben Pinto, whose brother Jack was among those killed in the shooting, played linebacker for Newtown.

“The whole town showed out on this special night,” senior Jared Dunn told The Hartford Courant. “We knew we had to bring it home for our town.”

Twenty first graders and six educators were killed at the elementary school on Dec. 14, 2012.

At a remembrance service earlier Saturday, Monsignor Robert Weiss, of St. Rose of Lima Church, expressed dismay about how the spate of deadly gun violence has continued in the U.S. since Sandy Hook.

“On this day seven years ago, we all thought the world was going to change. But it seems we were deluded because the situation has gotten even worse with the violence of guns,” Weiss told a packed memorial Mass on Saturday, Hearst Connecticut Media reported. “We live in fear, we live in anxiety, and yet we live in hope because we know God walks with us.”

According to Connecticut Against Gun Violence, which helped to organize vigils held in the state on Saturday, more than 700,000 Americans have been killed or injured in gun violence since the Sandy Hook shooting.

The annual memorial Mass at St. Rose of Lima began with the traditional reading of the names of the Sandy Hook victims. A bell was solemnly rung after each name was recited.

While seven years have passed, many in the small community of Newtown still struggle to cope with the magnitude of the tragedy.

“Just when I thought I was moving past the difficult part of this experience, it comes back. And I know it is like that for a lot of us in Newtown,” Rabbi Shaul Praver said during an interfaith service at Newtown Congregational Church.

Weiss was overcome by tears at the end of his homily.

“I am asked all the time how we are doing — how our families are doing — and my answer is, ‘I don’t know,’ because every day brings something new,” Weiss said. “All we are given is what we have here this morning.”

Gov. Ned Lamont ordered all state and U.S. flags in Connecticut to be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Saturday in remembrance of the Newtown victims.

“The tragedy that occurred that day is one of the worst in our history,” Lamont, a Democrat, said in a statement. “But in its aftermath, we witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of humanity, hope, and kindness cascading into our state from over the entire world, spreading a message of love that we must proactively protect.”

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