PARKERSBURG - Bells throughout the valley tolled 26 times at 9:30 a.m. Friday as residents gathered to honor those who lost their lives at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The memorial bell-ringing followed by a moment of silence comes exactly one week after a gunman shot 20 children and six staff members at the school.
The bell in the tower of the Wood County Courthouse tolled as some employees and community residents gathered in the lobby and on the courthouse steps to pay their respects to the victims of the shooting. After the first few rings, the rope on the courthouse bell came loose and the maintenance crew rang it the remainder of the 26 times by hand.
Rhonda Tracy, senior vice president for academic affairs at West Virginia University at Parkersburg, closes her eyes while ringing a bell 26 times Friday in honor of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. (Photo by Michael Erb)
Earlier this week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy called on residents to participate in the moment of silence. Declaring Friday a day of mourning in his state, he asked churches and government buildings ring their bells 26 times in honor of each life lost. On Wednesday, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked all West Virginians to observe the moment of silence to honor the memory of those who were killed last week.
Of the county commission's decision to ring the historic courthouse bell, commission President Blair Couch said, "I think our whole nation realizes how fragile life is and it brings home the fact that this is not an isolated incident.It could happen anywhere, in any community. It's always tragic, but in this season it is even tougher to lose a loved one. I lost my father right before Christmas and I feel for the families that have been impacted."
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, said the central office staff held a moment of silence Friday. Schools throughout the county were closed Friday for the first day of winter break.
At West Virginia University at Parkersburg about 30 employees gathered to hold a moment of silence during the ringing of the college's bell 26 times in honor of those who were killed in the elementary school shooting incident.
Rhonda Tracy, senior vice president for academic affairs, said the event gave employees a chance to both grieve for those who were lost and to think about keeping area students safe.
"We believe the safety of all students is important, even through college," she said. "This reminds us of the importance of being vigilant and ready."
Tracy, who has a six-year-old grandson, said it was difficult to think about the 20 first-graders who were killed at the Connecticut elementary school. She kept her eyes closed while ringing the bell and choked up slightly afterward.
"It's really hard to ring that bell 26 times," she said. "That's a lot of lives."