WOODSTOCK – Candles held Thursday evening on the Woodstock Square seemed as somber as the Square’s holiday lights were cheery.
A crowd, many among them teachers and elected officials, met for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Barely visible under the hood of her long, winter jacket, Mary Moltmann, a retired McHenry County College psychology instructor, said she was surprised and pleased with the turnout. Organizer Leslie Schermerhorn, superintendent of the McHenry County Regional Office of Education, estimated the crowd at 100 people.
“I think it gave us a chance publicly state some sense of concern, sympathy, compassion for all those people affected,” Moltmann said. “... I don’t know where you were, but it’s like when that happened on Dec. 14, it was just stunning in the worst way possible. Just breathtaking. Jaw-dropping in its horror.”
The vigil was the first step toward a coalition of McHenry County residents and solutions for the safety of children in schools, Schermerhorn said. She organized it after being approached by County Board members Donna Kurtz and Jim Heisler.
They have created a Facebook page – www.facebook.com/mchenrycountyschoolforum – to collect ideas, and plan to hold brainstorming meetings, Schermerhorn said.
“We’re looking at a lot of things, and that’s why we wanted to bring a lot of minds together, because there are a lot of different approaches to handle school safety,” she said.
Ideas, in turn, may go to legislators, she said.
Something needs to change, said former state Rep. Rosemary Kurtz, who attended the vigil with her daughter, Donna Kurtz, the County Board member.
Rosemary Kurtz is a retired Crystal Lake High School District 155 Spanish and history teacher, and also taught Spanish at McHenry County College.
The killing of 20 young students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary “was so senseless, and we just keep having the same thing occur over and over again,” Rosemary Kurtz said, citing the shootings of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her supporters in Tucson, Ariz., and the killings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and the movie theater in Aurora, Colo. “It’s just so gruesome. It’s an inhumane society, or we’re not a society. We’ve just let things get so out of hand.”
Both Kurtz and Moltmann said they would like to see more funding of mental health services and tighter restrictions on guns, especially assault rifles and high capacity magazines.
“I do recognize a real change in educational settings, that they seem to be becoming more violent,” Moltmann said. “Yes, this violence is a very rare event, and we can be relieved about that.
“But there is much more of a tendency to bring weapons to school, particularly assault-type weapons that are capable of doing maximum damage in a very short time. We need to start looking for answers to deal with this in a proactive way. We can’t wait.”