The children of Gurmat School (Sunday School) of Sikh Religious Society (SRS) of Palatine Illinois held an Interfaith prayer and Candlelight Vigil on December 14, in observance of the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, where 20 first grade children and 6 adults were killed in 2012.
“The vigil was organized to show solidarity with American families against senseless violence, and to honor the little angels, 6 to 7 year old school children and heroes, the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary,” said Rajinder Singh Mago, one of the event coordinators.
The terrible tragedy took place last year when a 20 year old Adam Lanza forced his way into the elementary school with his assault weapons and started shooting to kill children and teachers. Heroic teachers like Victoria Soto, 27, gave her life to save the lives of her class children whom she hid in the closets and bath room. The school principal and psychologist jumped on the gunman to stop him and sacrificed their own lives. Other teachers put their own body in between the killer’s bullets shielding their young students.
Despite snow and bitter cold weather more than three hundred community members, neighbors, interfaith leaders, and government officials or their representatives congregated in the Palatine Gurdwara. Keertan (singing of hymns) was performed by children from Wheaton Gurdwara and Palatine Gurdwara, and Mrs. Kanchan Lal, Bhai Mohinder Singh and Bhai Gurjant Singh’s Raagi Jathas (hymn singing groups).
A special prayer “Ardaas” was supplicated by Bhai Gurjant Singh, head granthi of Palatine Gurdwara to pray for the departed souls and their families, and to seek peace, harmony, and love in this world which is burning with anger and hate.
Retired Lt. Brian Murphy the Hero of Oak Creek Wisconsin Police Department, the first responder to the Oak Creek Wisconsin Sikh Temple Shootings on Aug 5, 2012 who took 15 bullets, one through his voice box was a Special guest speaker. He was honored with a public service and bravery award plaque by the SRS president Mr. Sokhi Singh and other SRS board members. He was also given a head wear of honor (SiroPao) by Bhai Gurjant Singh and a gift check by the SRS board on behalf of the community.
The program at the Gurdwara congregation hall was conducted by Amrith Kaur Aakre, Assistant State’s Attorney Cook County Illinois. The speakers who paid tributes to the victims included Kulwant Singh Hundal, Dr. Balwant Singh Hansra, Laddi Kaur Singh, Matt Flamm, Marty Castro- Chairman Illinois Human Rights Commission, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s office, Tom Choi – Illinois Comptroller Judi Baar Topinka’s Public Affairs Manager, Pastor Jeffrey – Church of Christ, Dr. Mary Nelson – Executive Director, Council for a Parliament of World’s Religions and Lt. (retd.) Brian Murphy – Oak Creek Wisconsin Police Department, and SRS President Sokhi Singh. Steve Kim – Candidate for Illinois Lt. Governor, running mate of Dan Rutherford for Governor.
After the prayers and tributes the whole congregation and guests assembled in the langar hall where candlelight vigil ceremony was held indoors due to snow and cold weather outside.
Maneshwar Singh, a community youth and Loyola University student, conducted the proceedings, a moment of silence was held. Twenty six Sunday school children walked in one by one, announcing the names of one of the twenty six killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Last year, and lighted one candle for him or her. The pictures of each of the twenty six were projected on two large screens while the candles were being lit for them. Then the whole assembly lighted the candles from each other making it a solemn ambiance and a fabulous memorial for the 26 lives lost in senseless violence. Many attendees were trying hard to hold back their tears.
“It was a beautiful ceremony and it is wonderful what you as a community were able to do for Lt. Brian Murphy,” said Megan Nakano President of Japanese American Citizens League and chairperson of Asian American Coalition of Chicago who participated in the vigil.
The whole assembly shared langar (community kitchen vegetarian meal) and indulged in fellowship with conversations about what could be done to avoid such tragedies in the future. Gun control, background checks, mental issues, violent video games were all being talked about in conversation groups in the langar hall.
The event was coordinated by Sarwan Singh Raju, Amardev Singh, Jasvir Kaur, Birender Singh, many teachers and volunteers of the SRS Sunday School, and Rajinder Singh Mago.