After a Wapakoneta resident talked with his granddaughter about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he decided to replace some of his Christmas display this season with a memorial to the 20 children and six adults who perished at the school.
Larry Shaffer, a retired pastor, placed a cross with a white bow, an angel blowing a horn and a harp, all in white lights, in his front yard as a memorial. He said his 6-year-old granddaughter, Ella, wanted a way to show the families she was sorry for what had happened to the children Friday in the deadly shooting incident.
Shaffer felt he had to do something for his granddaughter and the local community. He contacted Mick Haehn at Haehn’s Florist, which is just down the street from his home at 302 Stinebaugh Drive and had Haehn put up the pieces.
“I just want the kids to know they can drop off notes and cards, tape them to the wall, or they can drop off flowers and gifts in memory of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Shaffer told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “I want them to have a way to grieve, show they’re sorry for what happened.”
Shaffer said Ella comes to visit their home every Sunday. Through his grandchildren he has had the luxury to see how kids react to different situations, with seven children and 16 grandchildren.
“Ella always comes every Sunday, and she is always concerned in a kid sort of way,” Shaffer said. “She will often sit down with a piece of paper and draw it out. She can scribble down on a piece of paper what she is feeling and soon be skipping on her way.”
A wood garage door has also been dedicated as a pin-up site for children to hang letters, signs, or just relieve their feelings concerning the tragedy in Connecticut, for the children, “it is 700 miles away, but it might as well be 7 feet.” The names of all the people who died in the event are listed on the wall.
“Sometimes it helps for parents to have a place to sit and talk to their children about things that happen,” Shaffer said. “The children are sitting in front of a non-moving object and it gives parents a place.”
Paper and markers are available sitting in front of Shaffer’s home for any child wanting to make any kind of a memorial to place on the wall. Candles are also available for anyone wanting to burn a candle as a vigil to the victims.
He said he hopes it helps children and adults in the area cope with the shooting, which took so many lives in Newtown, Conn., approximately 700 miles from Wapakoneta.
Shaffer said it is a process of trying to honor the victim’s memories and still move on with life.
“In 9/11, they were terrorist that were our enemies,” Shaffer said. “In this case it is different. You get up in the morning and see the kids skipping off to school. You fully expect them to be coming home at 4 p.m., getting some cookies and going out to play.”
He said it would be hard for people to get on after the tragedy.
“This has impacted a lot of people,” Shaffer said. “I can’t imagine what the community is going through. They will likely never fully recover. There will always be that empty spot there.”
Shaffer said he wanted to give local children a way to cope.
“It helps relieve concerns for their own safety,” Shaffer said, “and kids have an inborn compassion. This a way for them to express both those needs.”
With having so many children and grandchildren, Shaffer said he was able to relate with parent’s concerns.
“There is no way to promise nothing will ever happen,” Shaffer said. “This is a painful reminder of this — but you can tell your children you will do everything you can to keep them safe.”
Managing Editor William Laney contributed to this story.