Christmas tree contribution comforts grieving community
Alongside the road leading up to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., 26 Christmas trees stand tall to honor those struck down during Friday's deadly shooting. The trees, purchased at the local Newtown fire department, were a gift from a Lee County woman hoping to offer solace during a national tragedy.
Sanford resident Sherrie Read purchased 26 Christmas trees from Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company to serve as a memorial for the 26 students, teachers and administrators shot and killed by a gunman Friday.
"Whatever we could do," Read said. "We wanted the families to know that the rest of us, around the world, were thinking of them."
The memorial has seen pilgrimages by countless people throughout the weekend, who've paused to honor the victims and place gifts at the base of the trees, said Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company Second Assistant Chief Michael Burton. The crowd and number of memorials grew so large, the firefighters set out four large tents so people would be sheltered from the rain, he said.
"Teddy bears are a big thing," Burton said, "any stuffed animals, flowers, hand-carved plaques and signs. Thousands of candles — it's just an overwhelming show of support."
The trees have been a comfort to the community, he said.
Read heard snippets of news reports during Friday's radio broadcast and stayed glued to her television with her family throughout the evening as information poured in on the shooting.
"Number one, I was so grateful I had my kids and they were safe," said the mother of three. "And the second thing, when I saw the picture of the family waiting to find out if their kids were safe or not, I was crushed. I couldn't fathom it. I still can't."
Read called a Christmas tree farm in Connecticut and was directed to the Sandy Hook Fire Department, which sold Christmas trees as part of an annual fund-raiser. Read said she hoped Newtown residents could decorate the trees with ornaments, and the victims' families could find some comfort in the display.
Sandy Hook Emergency Service Capt. Karin Halstead said the department was surprised by, but grateful for, the gift, and asked the nation for continued prayers for those lost.
"It's wonderful and (the trees) look beautiful," she said. "It is something to remember everyone lost, and the trees are overflowing with beautiful decorations."
Read, along with her daughter, Samantha, and her daughter's boyfriend, Sam, made 26 white cross ornaments with each of the victims' names and an angel on them. She contacted the Bee Publishing Company, and asked to use their address as a shipping point for others who also wanted to send ornaments.
Friends locally and nationwide are planning to create ornaments and send the crafts to Newtown, she said.
"What we can do as a country, it amazes me," Read said. "We live in a beautiful world, and unfortunately, there is evil."
Read had intended to remain anonymous, and she insisted the focus should be placed on the victims' families and how people around the nation could support them.
"I don't want this to be about me," she said. "I really don't."
Read was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and said the encouragement from her community during her illness inspired her to give back to those in need.
"The outpouring of love and support from people in Sanford and friends far away is still overwhelming to me," she said. "I wanted to pay it forward. That is what we are all supposed to do."
Ornaments can be sent to Bee Publishing Company, 5 Church Hill Road, Newtown, Conn. 06470. Monetary donations for the victims' families may be made at https://www.everribbon.com/ribbon/view/10076.
Want to contribute?
Ornaments for the Christmas tree memorial may be mailed to the Bee Publishing Company in Newtown, Conn.
Bee Publishing Company
5 Church Hill Road
Newtown, Conn. 06470
Monetary donations for the victims' families may be made at: