Strangers inspired to honor Newtown victims

Story highlights

  • One boy was inspired to write a memorial and place it on his front lawn
  • A girl wrote condolence notes to the victims and posted them on her bedroom door
  • Birthday candles and Christmas lights are replaced by tributes
  • People make the simple promise to pray for the victims and remember them

"To My friends at Sandy Hook Elem. You are in my prayers. Love, Mason B. 2nd Grade, Texas."

Mandie Balderaz's 8-year-old son placed his memorial to the lost children of Sandy Hook Elementary on a child-size lawn chair in his yard, decorated with stuffed animals and balloons and held down by rocks.

Knowing he would hear the news from someplace else, Balderaz figured she had to tell Mason what had happened on Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. In response, Mason decided he wanted to make his own tribute.

"I kept it together and I ran to the store," she said. "When I was buying the stuff, it hit me ... it was real. You have to keep that straight face in front of your kids and you have to keep that mom face because I don't want my 8-year-old living in fear."

Stunned by the loss of innocent life in Friday's massacre, children and adults around the country were moved to pay tribute to the Sandy Hook schoolchildren, teachers and administrators who lost their lives. People crafted memorials and school sports teams paid homage to lives cut short. Some offered prayers, and others promised never to forget the names of the dead.

A child's condolence letter

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Although Stephen Kales and his wife would have preferred not to tell their 9-year-old daughter about the shooting, the Kensington, Maryland, parents figured she would eventually hear about it. So he and his wife decided to tell her themselves.

"She was noticeably sad and went into her room to do her homework and eventually came out with those cards," which she posted on her bedroom door, he said.

"I am Sorry to all the parent's of those kid," read one note.

"It was her idea and was her natural way of acknowledging those lost and their grieving families," Kales said. "She realized that they were just like her -- and their families just like ours. "

No birthday candles this year

Jennifer Wallace knew her 12-year-old son was too old for her to protect him from the news. When she picked him up at his Dallas, Texas, school, he'd already heard about the shooting.

Instead of celebrating his 12th birthday over the weekend with candles in his birthday pie, he decided that he wanted to pay tribute with candles for the Newtown victims.

"It was his decision," said Wallace, who also has a child in kindergarten. "He said he wanted to do something to honor those victims, and I said I had 27 tea lights, so we lit those."

Redoing his Christmas lights display

Suffolk University college sophomore Ryan Emrich photographed the light display he created to honor the Newtown school shooting victims as well as the shooter, who he believes was a victim of mental illness.

Using white Christmas lights, the 19-year-old arranged the lights to the number 27 on his front lawn in North Reading, Massachusetts.

"I look at these lights and that number 27 and think of 27 lives, all which were prematurely ended. All of which who were in the process or one day would give back to society in so many ways," he said. "My family's thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by the tragedies that have occurred over the last week or so, including (the) Oregon mall shooting."

Art finds a way

Recent college graduate Deepthy Alias of Orlando wrote a poem within an hour of learning about the Newtown shooting.

"Sometimes we can't process things as it is -- then painting or poems come to our rescue -- to help us mourn, to heal and to hope, and to try to hold on(to) the optimism that there must be some goodness still left in the world," she said.

"I was trying to think like one of the young victims who had to leave way sooner than they should have," said Alias, 27. "They left behind empty homes, heartbroken parents and dreams that can never be fulfilled again. They did nothing wrong to deserve it. And as a society we must answer to each of their lives, to their pain and to their loss."

A promise to remember

Mike Kirouac and his wife were so saddened while watching the news that they decided to immediately create an ongoing tribute for the victims using American flags. The Acworth, Georgia, couple started calling stores that night until they found one that had 27 flags and drove 20 miles the next morning to pick them up.

"We felt one American flag for every life lost would be very meaningful," he said. "We made a personal commitment to set these flags out every December 14 until the day we meet these angels in heaven."

Many people simply promised to remember the victims and pray for them.

"I will remember the children and teachers who were killed, and pray that they rest in peace," wrote CNN commenter Erlinda Sheryl Brent. "I also pray for the families of the victims. I don't want to suggest that they will find comfort in memories of their loved ones, but I will acknowledge that the fabric of their families is changed forever, and that they are blanketed with love and support."

"I hope these angels are sent somewhere special for all they have done," wrote CNN commenter Elise. "I look at all these beautiful faces and see such promise in their lives. Our prayers go out to all these families that have lost such precious people."

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