PORTAGE | Region residents gathered in city halls and spent moments of silence at basketball games recalling the school shooting that killed 26, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn.
Mourners gathered Saturday in Portage City Hall to share their anger, anguish and frustration at the loss of 20 schoolchildren and six adults to shootings in a Connecticut elementary school.
More than 50 Portage residents filled the council chambers in a candlelight vigil punctuated by prayer and song.
"Portage today mourns, with America, the tragic loss of life yesterday at Sandy Hook Elementary School," Portage Mayor James Snyder said. "Over the last two months we have also seen our share of losses both expected and unexpected."
Snyder later said the response over the tragedy was so great on his personal Facebook page, he decided to throw open the doors to City Hall so residents could grieve together.
Among those filling council chambers were city officials, firefighters and police officers.
Snyder and area ministers reminded residents of the efforts by first responders in such tragedies.
"May we have better respect for our first responders who have to live with these tragic nightmare memories forever as they move each little one from their resting place," Snyder said in his remarks to mourners.
Snyder urged families to become more circumspect and vigilant in their children's activities, from video games to television, as well as their interactions with others.
On Friday, Wheeler girls basketball coach Dustin Nelson spoke during a postgame interview to also remember the lives lost at Sandy Hook.
"I say this with a heavy heart because I'm a teacher and a father and I have a second-, third- and fourth-grader," Nelson said. "We've lost a ton of kids that aren't going to celebrate Christmas and aren't going to come home tonight. Let's keep this in perspective."
Among those gathered Saturday at the Portage City Hall was Laura Gaffney, a mother of five accompanied by two of her children, ages 13 and 18, as well as the children's grandmother.
Gaffney said her children had reacted in disbelief saying, "How sad. How horrible."
She said the tragedy illustrates how the country as a whole is slipping away from its principles, and core family life is not what it was.
Gaffney's mother, Cira Gonzalez, said she can only believe the shooter was a disturbed person.
Later Saturday, Pastor Tim Engel, of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, told The Times he was enroute to Newtown with a pair of golden retrievers, part of the church's Comfort Dogs ministry, to assist not only family members of the victims but the community at-large.
"The entire community has been shaken by this terrible event," Engel said, adding the ministry will extend throughout the coming week.
Engel is accompanied by church members Dan and Karen Fulkerson, and the two golden retrievers, Prince and Barnabas.