Updated: Fri, 21 Dec 2012 15:06:57 GMT | By Tracy Connor

The sounds of silence: Church bells toll 26 times to honor Newtown victims



A nation mourns after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.

A nation mourns after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.

Twenty-six times the bells tolled Friday, punctuating a moment of silence that descended on Newtown, Conn., and many other communities across the country to mark one week since the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

From white-steepled churches in the Georgia countryside to the majestic National Cathedral in Washington, the peals began at 9:30 a.m. -- the same time last Friday that gunman Adam Lanza began the rampage that tore a hole in the heart of America.

There was one ring for each of the 20 first-graders and six staff members killed by high-powered rifle fire -- and in some places, a 27th ring for Lanza's mother, who owned the guns her son used to kill her, the children and educators, and himself.

The simple, somber remembrance, which was called for by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and seized upon by religious and government leaders from coast to coast, was at once heart-breaking and healing.

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The moment was marked as some families were still preparing to bury their murdered loved ones and as a renewed debate over gun control raged, with the National Rifle Association slated to hold a “major” news conference later in the morning.

President Obama, who responded to an online petition for gun restrictions with a video message that said “We hear you,” observed it in private.

Elsewhere, people gathered together. In Newtown, they paused at makeshift memorials at the town Christmas tree and at the firehouse where survivors were brought after the shooting. Simultaneously, the din of New York's stock exchanges was muted.

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St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Bexley, Ohio -- some 600 miles from Newtown, Conn. -- doesn’t have a bell to ring, so it commemorated the one-week mark with morning fast and prayer.

“We all feel like we want to do something. We want to share the burden of our sisters and brothers in Connecticut,” Susan Marie Smith, rector of the church, told NBC News.

While Malloy called for 26 rings, the Stockbridge First United Methodist Church in Georgia had decided to ring its bell 27 times to include Nancy Lanza.

“I think for us, she’s a victim, too,” said the Rev. Jody Ray, the pastor. “We probably should have included the young man who committed the crime.

“It’s a tragedy. At the end of the day, people are dead and in response to tragedy, we want to remember all those who were involved…We’re not going to stand in judgment.”

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