Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton arrived a few minutes late to the Greater Danbury Chamber Leaders Luncheon at the Crowne Plaza on Friday, Dec. 14.

As he walked into the packed dining room there, I noticed he was not his jovial self and wasn't doing his usual amount of glad-handing with the crowd.

On his way to the head table, Mayor Boughton walked over to me, and I could see he was upset.

"It's bad," he said softly, making unspoken reference to the shootings that had taken place just a couple of hours before at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

I told him there were reports that several people had been killed.

"Worse," he replied. "It's much worse."

The mayor canceled his planned State of the City address, which was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

Instead, he informed the crowd "the shooting in Newtown is much more serious than you heard on the way in" and asked everyone to "pray for loved ones and families" of the victims.

Even as Mayor Boughton spoke, tweets and online reports had increased the number of victims into the teens.

Then flashed the staggering news: A total of 27 people were dead.

Reports said 18 of the victims were children, a total that later rose to 20.

I knew Sandy Hook was an elementary school, and that meant the shooter had gunned down little, innocent kids.

I was stunned and sickened.

This was unimaginable.

This was unspeakable.

How could someone commit such an atrocity?


My heart goes out to the parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters of all those little children who will never get to live their lives.

My heart goes out, too, to the families and loved ones of the slain educators who had devoted their lives to one of the highest callings in our society -- teaching children and helping them grow and flourish.

My highest praise to the teachers and other staff members at Sandy Hook School who risked their lives and acted so heroically in helping keep their students out of harm's way.

And my hat is off to the first responders who rushed into the school, potentially risking their own lives, to try to stop the violence and save lives.

Most everyone in Newtown and many people in surrounding towns and beyond have been touched directly or indirectly by this horrific tragedy.

We at The Spectrum and The News-Times are devastated by the unthinkable loss of life at Sandy Hook School on Friday.

And the tragedy struck close to home for us, as a member of The News-Times family, longtime copy editor Terri Rousseau, suffered the loss of her daughter, teacher Lauren Rousseau, at the hands of gunman Adam Lanza.

The senseless shootings and the large number of individuals killed -- the second-highest total in American history to the 32 slain at Virginia Tech in 2007 -- brought a very unwanted attention to Newtown and its elementary school in Sandy Hook.

Sadly, Newtown and Sandy Hook will forever be remembered across the nation for this terrible tragedy, just as Columbine, Virginia Tech and other scenes of mass shootings are forever etched in our memories.

Government leaders from a tearful President Barack Obama and somber Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra and U.S. and state legislators have reached out to the loved ones of the victims.

Countless vigils have been held in Newtown and other communities across the state, as people have wanted to show their support for the victims' families and friends -- and have needed to gain some comfort and solace for themselves.

The Newtown community has wrapped its collective arms around the residents who suffered such terrible losses and who are in the deepest grief imaginable. The families will need that type of support for a long, long time.

In the coming weeks and months, we will all need to come to grips with what has happened and find a way to move on.

But we also need to remember one of the bittersweet lessons of Friday, Dec. 14, 2012: Family and friends are the most important things in life.

We all need to hug our family members and friends more often.

We need to frequently tell them, "I love you."

We should call, write or visit important people in our lives more regularly.

We should reach out and help our neighbors in times of need.

We should all perform random acts of kindness for friends and strangers alike.

There is no bringing back those wonderful individuals who died on Friday, but we all need to do whatever we can, in their name, to make this a better community, nation and world.

Art Cummings is editor emeritus of The Spectrum and The News-Times. He can be contacted at 203-731-3351 or at acummings@newstimes.com.