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Giffords consoles Sandy Hook relatives

Updated 11:06 am, Saturday, January 5, 2013

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  • Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, center, exits Newtown Town Hall at Fairfield Hills Campus after meeting with Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra and other officials on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013. Photo: Jason Rearick / The News-Times

    Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, center, exits Newtown Town Hall at Fairfield Hills Campus after meeting with Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra and other officials on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013.

    Photo: Jason Rearick

 

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NEWTOWN -- Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comforted families of the Sandy Hook massacre victims and spoke with local, state and federal officials on Friday about gun control and improvements to the mental health system.

Giffords, a prominent victim of gun violence, was accompanied by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. She met privately for more than 40 minutes with First Selectman Pat Llodra, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., at Newtown's municipal center.

Giffords met later Friday with many of the relatives of those slain during the shootings that killed 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.

While Giffords declined to make any public statements during her visit, Llodra said their meeting revolved around several topics, including gun control and society's declining sensitivity to violence.

"What (Giffords) communicated herself and through her husband is an understanding that she is in a position to be important in this effort to try and drive change," Llodra told The News-Times shortly after the meeting Friday.

Llodra said many of the same questions asked when Giffords was wounded two years ago during a mass shooting in her home state of Arizona are being asked again after the Sandy Hook massacre. When Giffords was shot, six people were killed and a dozen besides her were wounded.

"When you look at all these events, we have someone with a weapon designed to kill, only to kill, in the hands of someone with some real mental health problems," Llodra said. "We are putting killing tools in the hands of people without good judgment, and we have to address that."

Llodra said Newtown can have a strong voice in the national debate on gun control.

"This was a horrible thing that's happened to us here in Newtown, but let's leverage it to a greater good, and Giffords could be a part of that," she said.

Llodra added that while no commitments were made during the meeting, "I have a strong sense that (Giffords) will" help in the effort going forward.

Llodra said Blumenthal, who also declined to speak with reporters after the meeting, would likely spearhead any efforts in Washington.

"He'll be a real voice at the federal level working with his colleagues in the state Senate," she said.

While Llodra said the town's voice in the gun debate has yet to fully evolve, "The townspeople will have a voice and the town government will have a voice, and I believe those voices will likely be aligned."

After meeting with town officials, Giffords and Kelly went to an undisclosed private home to comfort the families of the Sandy Hook shooting victims. About six families, most of whom had lost children, were there -- about 25 people in all.

Several said it was the first time they had left their homes since the funerals of their loved ones.

Giffords spent about two hours at the home. She gave no speech, but quietly went around the room hugging each family member and saying "I'm sorry."

Her presence was described as "uplifting."

Kelly told the group that he and Giffords have been quiet about gun control, but that they hope to speak out in the future.

Earlier in the day, when Giffords entered the municipal center, she was embraced by School Superintendent Janet Robinson.

"We're so glad you came," Robinson said. "Thank you."

"How horrible," Giffords replied, referring to the Newtown shootings, as she hugged Robinson.

"We're here to do whatever we can to help," Kelly said.

dperrefort@newstimes.com; 203-731-3358; www.twitter.com/DirkPerrefort