WARREN, Pa. - An old proverb states: "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness." Piper VanOrd did just that.
Piper and about 40 others gathered at Betts Park in Warren, Pa. on Dec. 28 to light 26 floating lanterns in memory of the children and adults killed in the Newtown, Conn. shooting. The following is a transcript of an interview regarding the event.
Q: How and when did you come up with the idea to have a memorial of this sort?
About 40 people took part in a grassroots memorial at Betts Park in Warren, Pa., for the 26 children and adults killed in the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Participants in Warren lit and released 26 floating lanterns into the night sky as a sign of light and hope as well as a tribute to the slain.
A: It was probably a week after the tragedy in Newtown. It had all set in and we were grieving with the rest of the nation. Our hearts just went out to those folks. My three kids Ash, Phoenix and Lily (ages 12, 9 and 8, respectively) were asking more and more questions as the week went on. Our hearts were just very saddened. We kept saying we wish we could do something. That's when we decided on the lantern memorial.
Q: Who all was involved in the planning?
A: Sue Wohlers and myself, and my three kids, Ash, Phoenix and Lily. And the help of everyone on Facebook.
Q: How did you advertise the event?
A: We didn't advertise. At first we (the kids, Sue and I) were just going to light them all ourselves. We realized that not only would we not be able to light all 26 at once, but it might help others with the healing process as well. We invited friends and family through our personal Facebook pages, and I put it on the Allegheny Outfitters page as well.
Q: Were you pleased with the turnout?
A: Absolutely. I would've been pleased if it were just us. But around 40 people came out to help. We were able to light all 26 lanterns at once. It was very special.
Q: What did you hope to accomplish with the memorial?
A: I'm not sure exactly. I'm not sure any of us knew. We just knew others were grieving as we were.
Q: There were many children at the memorial. How you do think this can help them?
A: My son Ash said it best. He told me that "even when horrible things happen, we can come together to help each other to get through it."
Q: Please add anything else you would like to say about the memorial or the shooting in Connecticut that inspired it.
A: It was very special, and something I'll remember for the rest of my life. A couple things really stood out.
When we arrived, the parking lot was empty except one car parked with nobody in it. As I started unpacking the lanterns, the couple and their two dogs returned from their snowshoe hike and started packing up their car. They'd asked what we were doing and after I told them, they asked if we needed some extra hands and jumped right in. Come to find out, the man, David, was a pastor, and he asked if we'd like him to say a little prayer before we lit them. His prayer was full of hope and healing - very moving. It was such a happy coincidence that led him and his wife (and their two puppies) to us that night.
The other was as we let go of all 26 lanterns and watched the bright lights float upward, darkness fell on the crowd, and all the adults were silent. All you could hear in the background were kids giggling and having fun as they played in the snow.