Shari Robinson Collier knows what the dozens of parents in Newtown, Conn., are going through this week. She buried her child two years ago.
That was part of the reason she attended a local prayer vigil Monday night in honor of the 20 children and six adults who were slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday.
“My heart goes out to the families in Newtown,” Collier said. “I know their pain. I wanted to share this moment with the community.”
About 50 people gathered at Augusta Mini Theatre to remember the victims and pray for such tragedies to end. Sponsored by the Association of Interdenominational Ministers United, prayers were led by Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist ministers.
Church leaders spoke of healing and love at the gathering, titled A Time to Heal. The Rev. Larry Fryer of Hudson Memorial CME Church said the rain made him think of a child asking his mother whether the rain was God crying about the slain children. He said he could not imagine having to be the mother who was tasked with explaining the tragedy to her child.
“We are crying, too,” he said. “We are all crying for the innocent children and brave teachers lost.”
Tyrone J. Butler, the founder of the Augusta Mini Theatre Community Arts School, was asked to open the night, which he said was a difficult job.
As someone who works with children, Butler said, he had a hard time coming to terms with the shooting.
“I see them,” he said. “I see their smiles.”
The Rev. Chris Waters of Thankful Baptist Church reminded mourners that Sandy Hook could have been any school in any small town, even Augusta. He said the night was about seeking comfort through unity.
“What do we do now?” he asked. “We stand together. We love each other.”
A prayer for comfort was led by the Rev. Earl Welch of the Bel-Ridge Baptist Church in North Augusta. The Rev. Luther Felder of Chaplain United Methodist Church at Paine College gave a prayer for peace, and the Rev. David Hunter of the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection led a prayer for unity.
Other local leaders also spoke, including Richmond County school board District 9 representative Venus Cain. She said it is shocking how brutal children can be to one another. Her job entails sitting in on tribunals where she often hears of children punching and stabbing each other.
“Until we are brave and bold enough to have that conversation within our community, things like this will continue,” she said.
Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver said he had recently become a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that promotes stricter enforcement.
He said he has been labeled as an anti-gun mayor, which is inaccurate.
His hope is to get rid of illegal arms only.
“Nobody hunts anything with an AK-47,” he said. “We should use this event to come together and talk about these issues.”