The tight-knit community of Broadalbin came together tonight in a candlelight vigil to comfort the family of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, who died trying to save children gunned down at her elementary school in Connecticut a week ago.
Hochsprung’s mother, Cheryl Lafferty, and her uncle and aunt, Lester Kevin Pfeiffer and Sara Pfeiffer Schopmeier, live in the village.
Organizing the vigil were Katie Kosowicz Bolibaugh and Sandy Phillips Bruse of Broadalbin. Bolibaugh called the vigil “a way to grieve as a community” and a way to move forward.
Village residents were joined by hundreds of strangers, people from Amsterdam, Johnstown and Gloversville, drawn to the outdoor event held in memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal.
Janet and Ralph Salerno of Amsterdam came to the vigil “to pay tribute, to show our respect and to show our support.”
Janet Salerno said she had never participated in a vigil before, but decided to attend Thursday’s because of the local connection. “A lot of people were touched, more so by the fact that there were children involved,” she said.
Trish Smith of Johnstown came to the vigil with her son, Mathew, currently residing in Wichita, Kan. “Some of my family live in Broadalbin and I thought this would be a nice thing to do for the community,” she said. “It is a chance to help heal and support everyone who was affected.”
Her last vigil was for the victims of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“The children that were affected brought me out,” she said.
Mathew Smith, who is training to be a police officer in Wichita, said the violence that happened in Connecticut could happen anywhere. “It made me sick to know about the children,” he said.
Tom Davis of Broadalbin said he is good friends with Hochsprung’s Broadalbin family and had met Hochsprung when she was in town about a year ago. “It blew my mind when I learned about the connection” between Hochsprung and Lafferty. “I saw her picture on the TV Friday and I had it confirmed Saturday,” he said.
He said he was at the vigil to show support for the family.
Approximately 1,000 people formed an unbroken chain for about a mile between the Presbyterian Church on West Main Street and the Broadalbin Methodist Church on North Main Street. Participants held candles that silhouetted their faces for 30 minutes.
About halfway through the vigil, the Lafferty and Pfeiffer families began to walk down Main Street toward the Methodist church.
The crowd followed them down the road.
At the Methodist church, with the two families in the forefront, people sang songs of peace and harmony, mixed with patriotic tunes, their voices sounding clear in the cold air.
At 7:30 p.m., the bell at the Methodist church tolled for each of the 26 victims of the shooting at the school. The tolling lasted a minute but the neighborhood hummed with the bell’s fading vibrations for seconds afterwards.
The vigil ended at the Father Smith Center at St. Joseph’s Church.
There the family greeted friends with hugs and smiles.
Family spokeswoman Melanie Buhrmaster-Bunch called the outpouring of support amazing. “The tragedy has impacted so many people. The outpouring of support from around the world has been amazing,” she said.
Buhrmaster-Bunch and Hochsprung were cousins, and they grew up together. “I idolized her,” Buhrmaster-Bunch said of Hochsprung. “She was fierce, feisty and selfless. She would do anything to save the lives of any child.”
On the day of the shooting, Hochsprung was inside the elementary school at a meeting when the shooter, Adam Lanza, arrived at the building armed with an assault rifle and several semi-automatic pistols.
Buhrmaster-Bunch said teachers at the school recounted that Hochsprung became instantly alert when she heard gunshots at the school. Lanza apparently fired his weapons initially to force his way inside the locked building, she said. “He shot through the door to get inside,” she said.
Hochsprung, unarmed, moved toward the sound of the gunfire and confronted Lanza, Buhrmaster-Bunch said. “There was nothing that was going to stop her. Unfortunately, he had guns and she did not,” she said.
Hochsprung was buried at a location the family does not want to reveal. Her funeral in Connecticut on Wednesday was attended by more than 2,400 people.