Teens create holiday memorial to honor Sandy Hook victims
Just a few days before the 1-year remembrance of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, two college students from Cranston decided they wanted to give the community a way to honor the 26 lives lost in that massacre.
Matt Lodge and his brother created a public memorial at 43 Wayland Ave in Cranston to honor the victims who died on Dec. 14, 2012.
Lodge, a URI student, said, "This is a holiday memorial that I've built which consists of 26 lighted candy canes. There are 20, three foot high candy canes. Each one symbolizes one of the children, and there are six that are probably about five feet tall, and those symbolize all of the adults (who were killed)."
Lodge's mother Debi Stravato, said both of her boys were deeply affected by the tragedy last year, recalling that they barely even wanted to celebrate Christmas after hearing the shocking news reports coming out of Connecticut.
"I remember exactly where I was, and I remember seeing that and thinking, "You know something; those kids really didn't have a chance to even start their lives, and they were just innocent," Lodge said.
"I couldn't imagine how I would have felt if that was somebody that I had known personally, if it affected me that much when it was people I didn't even actually formally know."
So the two brothers turned their sorrow into action, cutting and painting wooden name plates for each victim, creating a custom 'Sandy Hook' sign, and crafting unique, hinged and locking donation boxes with their own two hands.
"It took about 70 hours total just to put all of the lights up," he said glancing at the three adjoining family homes illuminated with lights of all colors, and a huge Merry Christmas sign surrounding a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree made entirely of lights.
Behind each candy cane that represents a victim is a hand painted plaque with the victims' name on it.
"It's a way for us to remember kind of the highlights of all the children and six adults that passed away, and also just to remember them in a light that's, you know, a little better than all of the sorrow and grief that we felt the day that it happened. We're looking at the positive things here, and we're remembering who they were and we're not remembering that day. This isn't a tribute to that day. This is a tribute to those lives of everybody who was lost that day," Lodge said.
"I'm extremely proud of them. I'm glad that they grew up to be young men that are, you know, willing to give back and that are passionate about other people," their mother said.
And the Sandy Hook memorial is already making an impact. Most cars drive by slowly as they pay their respects. The family says one woman from Connecticut cried and met the family after noticing the display.
"And the reason she was so touched is that she's from Connecticut and she lives just a couple towns over, and she was very excited to see that someone from other than Connecticut was still paying tribute to those lives that were lost," she said.
The Lodge family invites you to their home at 43 Wayland Ave as a way to pay your respects to the 26 Sandy Hook victims.
And while you're there, you can also park your car, make a donation to a charity of your choice, or sign the large 'Sandy Hook' board with a message, which will eventually be presented to the victim's families to show that Rhode Island supports them during this now difficult holiday season.