[Editor's note: The following is the speech given by Newtown, Conn. resident Dara McKenzie during the Christmas Eve vigil at the Stoneham Town Common.]
"My name is Dara McKenzie and this is my husband Joe and our almost three- year-old daughter Kylie who was most likely attending Sandy Hook Elementary in September for preschool. We are here today because we are visiting our family, Joe's mother Elaine McKenzie who is a native of Stoneham and currently a children's librarian here in town. His father, Richard, who has lived in Stoneham for 33 years and his sister Janyce who graduated from Stoneham High School. His brother Andrew is also a Stoneham High graduate and currently lives in California. We are also here today because almost three years ago, we humored my parents, who live in New York, to look at a few houses an hour away from them in Connecticut. I had never been to any of the towns in which we were shown houses that day and really had no intention of living there, as I had another area in mind. The fourth house we saw on that day was in a quiet cul-de-sac, in a small part of Newtown called Sandy Hook. We walked into the house and we just had to have it, called some cousins nearby for opinions of the town, received nothing but positive feedback and made an offer that day which was accepted.
"When asked where I live for the past three years, I always had to tell people that I live in Newtown, about 15 minutes east of Danbury off (Route) 84. Now, I do not have to explain. Our little 'off the grid town' has now been named the 'saddest place on Earth.'
"Yes, we are sad. We are devastated. But, we are also so much more than that. We were always a close knit community, we waved to each other when we passed them in a grocery store, we said 'hi' when we drove by them waiting with their kids at the bus stop. Now, we no longer wave, we no longer say 'hi.' We hug when we see our neighbors, we blow kisses when we pass them in our car, and we cry when we look into each other's eyes. We are now all family. A week before the dreaded day, I wrote an email to an old friend filling her in on my life. I said how much I love living in this town. I feel that now more than ever and feel proud and lucky to be part of such a loving community.
"Joe and I know many people directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy. My friends' schedules this past week have consisted of funerals and wakes of six and seven year olds and of those brave and heroic adults who did all they could to protect these children. My friends and I had to have conversations with our young children that we never thought we would have to have. 'Mommy, why are there so many police cars?' 'Daddy, why are there so many teddy bears and candles over there?' We drive down our previously quiet streets and see motorcade after motorcade following funeral processions for these heroes and these innocent little kids.
"We thank you, Stoneham for your love and support through this difficult time. We feel the country grieving with us and we appreciate this outpouring of love so much. We are honored to be here tonight and I thank Erin for putting this together. I want to share a quote that I found when stalking Erin's Facebook page to learn more about her. She posted it on December 10th, before this horrific tragedy occurred and I feel it is very appropriate to share. 'And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in.'
"None of us in Newtown will ever be the same. We will never forget this senseless tragedy and will never forget the lives that were lost far too soon. On this Christmas Eve night, I ask that you take the time to love your family and friends. And hug those precious children in your lives just a little tighter.”