"Eight days ago the quiet rhythms of our town were shattered by violence of the most shocking kind," said the Rev. Laurel E. Scott, pastor of the North United Methodist Church. "So we come into this house to bring our grief and anger, our sadness and our fear, our doubts and our questions."
Congregants had organized the multi-faith service as a gift to the community. They invited town leaders and the police chief to talk about the support that has welled up from this Hartford suburb since a disgruntled warehouse employee killed eight colleagues and himself in an early morning rampage.
Mayor Louis A. Spadaccini said he was touched by the way Hartord Distributor co-workers risked their lives to help each other and proud of how quickly Manchester's police and firefighters responded, saying they no doubt saved lives.
He also said he was comforted by the outpouring of support from within the community and eslewhere. He said Middletown Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, whose community dealt with the trauma of the Kleen Energy plant explosion that killed six in February, called to offer support.
"He said, 'I know what you're going through now,' " Spadaccini said.
Steve Hollander, chief of operations at Hartford Distributors, who was wounded by gunman Omar Thornton, thanked everyone for their love and support and said he was grateful for the town's rapid emergency response.
"As somebody stuck in that building that horrible day, how wonderful it was to see the first responders," he said.
Hollander said he is still struggling with the trauma.
"I'm shocked and numb and thankful for my wife putting up with me," he said.
Others said made a point of saying they felt safe in their town, despite the incident. Rev. Scott, who is African American and leads a mostly white congregation, explained prior to the service that congregants wanted to dispel any notion that Manchester was a racist town. She was referring to Thornton's allegations that he was targeting racists at Hartford Distributors.
Rabbi Richard Plavin offered words of comfort, saying that while death brings pain and sorrow, it cannot take away the years, dreams and experiences shared with those that are lost.
Later, family members, police officers and firefighters came forward and, one by one, placed white, long-stemmed roses in a vase as the name of each shooting victim was called. A church bell tolled for each one.
Scott urged those who had come to the service to lean on each other and begin the healing process.
"Even though we have lost some of our dearest, life continues and we must continue to live for them,"
Courant information specialist Christina Bachetti contributed to this story.