Newtown Marks Anniversary of Sandy Hook Shooting, Obama Urges Gun Control and Mental Health Reform

One year ago today, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. faced the tragedy that would devastate the town and make the school's name almost synonymous with gun legislation, when twenty children and six teachers were gunned down by Adam Lanza. On Saturday, President Barack Obama marked the anniversary of the massacre with a moment of silence at the White House, while the town itself came together to grieve in private.

Asking for the media to stay away, the community gathered Saturday to remember and grieve with the victims' families. In the morning, St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church memorialized the victims by tolling the Bells of Consolation 26 times, once for each victim. The chapel of the Trinity Episcopal Church organized a prayer vigil to stretch from Saturday evening until Sunday morning, and the Al Hedaya Islamic Center put together a public afternoon prayer service, followed by arts and crafts for kids.

"We are wishing fervently that those many persons who wish us well, and the media, will allow us this time to be alone and quiet with time for personal and communal reflection," said First Selectman Pat Llodra, Newtown’s leader.

“Maybe this tragedy can serve as a reminder for all families to set aside a few minutes to talk together about the importance of compassionate acts – that those acts become the glue that binds us together in our humanity,” she added, speaking for a wide range of community groups. “There is great power in a community supporting and believing the notion that each of us can and do make a difference."

The President echoed those sentiments in his Saturday address, as he called on Americans to consider their role in stopping violence, saying that the U.S. had not done enough to ensure the safety of the country — his words being especially poignant in the wake of yesterday's shooting at a school in Colorado, when at least three students were injured in gunfire.

"We have to do more to heal troubled minds," Obama said. "We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for."

Some steps have already been taken — according to National Alliance on Mental Illness, 36 states have increased their mental health-care budgets in the last year, and several of them have started programs to identify mental illness early. Texas has introduced staff training in schools in order to spot the signs of mental disorders, while Nebraska started its own pilot program to institute mental health "screenings" for high-schoolers.

“We think that Sandy Hook opened up the eyes of governors and state legislators and policymakers around the country that mental health has been cut enough,” said the director of legislative advocacy at the NAMI.

Money is being raised in various ways, not just by legislators. According to a survey by the Connecticut Attorney General's Office and the state Department of Consumer Protection, at least sixty-three funds and charities have managed to raise millions of dollars in the tragedy's name over the last year. Roughly $12 million of that still hasn't been spent yet, but a large portion of it is reportedly meant to go to mental health resources.

Of course, as we look back, it's important to bear in mind that for those who lived in the town, and suffered the horror of the event, the tragedy is a constant. “We don’t think in terms of anniversaries here,” one Newtown mother told New York Daily News. “It’s not a one-year thing. It’s an everyday thing.” For the rest of us, though, it's a time to think of our communities, our countries, and our kids — and of what we can do to keep them strong and safe.