Monday marks three years since a deadly mass shooting claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
For the first time, Newtown students are in school on the anniversary of the tragedy.
Gov. Dannel Malloy has ordered Connecticut and U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff Monday as the state honors the victims of the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre.
Among those who died were first-grade students Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Elimie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt.
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Also killed were school principal Dawn Hochsprung, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, teachers Victoria Soto and Lauren Rousseau, behavioral therapist Rachel Davino and school aide Anne Marie Murphy.
Community members are coming together to remember the victims. Trinity Episcopal Church will hold its annual Interfaith Gathering for Prayer and Comfort at 7 p.m. Monday. The service will include prayer, readings of sacred texts and moments of silence for everyone to "reflect" or "pray in his or her own way," according to Newtown religious leaders.
"As faith leaders, we come from a variety of religious communities that are diverse in belief and practice," Rev. Matt Crebbin of Newtown Congregational Church wrote to the community. "However, we want you to know that we are united in our commitment to offer care and compassion to all of Newtown. As we near the three year Anniversary of the traumatic events at Sandy Hook School, we want to let you to know that we continue to hold this community in our prayers and we continue to offer care for anyone who wishes to find spiritual and faith-based support. Many of our individual fellowships will be offering specific events in the days around the anniversary as part of our worship and community life. We plan to post details about these in the very near future.
The door at Newtown Congregational Church bears a sign with a simple message: "We are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love."
"Choosing love is not something that is an afterthought, it really is a conscious choice that we try to make every day," Crebbin, the church’s senior minister, said. "When I hear of other communities that have been affected by gun violence, there is this connection with compassion, but there’s also this great sorrow that’s still there."
Crebbin said his community must find a way to recognize the tragic events of three years ago without reliving the trauma.
"We may be in the same chapter of a book, but we’re on different pages, so part of the way we can care for one another is be aware that different people will be at different places, especially around this anniversary," Crebbin said.
Newtown recovery centers are also providing quiet spaces and therapeutic programs to support grieving community members.
"It is very hard, it is very difficult to overcome," said Rabbi Shaul Praver, who served as rabbi at Newtown's Congregation Adath Israel at the time of the shooting, "but we will overcome."
Praver is writing a book called Sacred Testimony on the narrative of what happened, why and the search for solutions.
"Teaching the golden rule in school, being compassionate to one another, educating the entire child, reaching out to the loner as the most powerful thing we can do to keep our children safe in school," he said.
Monday is the first anniversary of the tragedy that falls on a school day. Students from Newtown are still attending school in neighboring Monroe while construction continues on the new Sandy Hook Elementary School. Construction is scheduled to be finished by fall of 2016, according to the project website.
"It seemed to be most appropriate, and since we’ve had a couple of years, that we have that day where children come together and learn and celebrate the gift of learning," Crebbin said.
Memorial services for the 26 lives lost were also held over the weekend.