In the images of the children gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ron Fonda saw the faces of his young nieces and nephews.
The aftermath of the horrific mass-killing in Connecticut weighed heavy on the conscience of the Scotia resident as pictures of the children surfaced — some of them bearing a close resemblance to his own kin. He found himself wanting do something to show solidarity with those who lost loved ones during the rampage.
“It hit home for me,” he said of the deaths in Newtown, Conn. “I was just moved by it.”
Then he got an idea for a tribute — a place where people could pause for a moment and reflect during the holidays. This week, he created an illuminated semi-circle of 20 decorated Christmas trees on a vacant lot across from the Scotia-Glenville High School, each tree representing one of the young children.
A friend donated the trees and a local company created a sign. Fonda bought a shopping cart full of holiday decorations and grabbed a couple of flood lights from his garage.
He borrowed a generator from his father and had several metal sign posts supplied by another local company. He tracked down the owner of the property and secured permission to use it.
Then Fonda started his work — nearly 30 hours over four days in weather that has been anything but cooperative. By Thursday evening, his makeshift memorial was complete.
Each tree has an angel mounted on top, a pink one to represent the girls who died and a silver one for the boys. A wreath at the center of the makeshift memorial has six angels to represent the school staffers who died trying to protect their students.
The writing on the sign sends a simple and touching message: “Forever in our hearts, forever in God’s arms, God bless your souls, God bless your families.”
“It’s simple, it’s basic and it sends a message,” he said. “There were 20 kids and each one of them needed their own Christmas tree.”
Fonda, a burly heavy machine operator for a local stone company, gets caught in emotion as he recounts stories that have been publicized about the massacre. Creating the display was a sort of catharsis for him — a way to visually show how deeply Sandy Hook affected him.
The display has already drawn attention from pedestrians and motorists along bustling Sacandaga Road. Some stop to talk to Fonda, who stands by the memorial for hours each day; others simply approach the display and weep softly.
“One man cried like an angel,” he said.
On Christmas Eve, he’s hoping to get carolers to sing Christmas songs by the memorial. And on Christmas Day — when he’ll celebrate his 53rd birthday — he plans to spend the day by his handiwork.
“It’s my birthday,” he said. “It’s what I want to do for my birthday.”