The sound of children playing told Newtown officials they had found a Sandy Hook memorial site
Newtown's memorial to the 26 children and educators killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting is now officially open to the public.
Connecticut Public Radio's John Henry Smith recently discussed the Sandy Hook Memorial Park with Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal and Alan Martin, vice chair of the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
John Henry Smith: Plans for the memorial have been in place for nine years. What are your feelings about the journey Newtown has taken to finally get this memorial completed?
Alan Martin: We had 17 sites that we originally considered. The site we ultimately chose is the first site that we visited. At the time, we felt it was too close to the school, too close to the tragedy. We decided it might not be the best site for us.
After visiting 16 subsequent sites, we returned to several sites for a second look. The day we visited the site the second time, it was a beautiful fall day. We heard the children in the playground of Sandy Hook School, which is right through the woods, adjacent pretty much to the memorial site. We heard them playing in the playground, laughing and yelling as kids do. It really spoke to us. We decided this really is a perfect site.
John Henry Smith: Does the memorial look as you had envisioned? What feedback have you gotten?
Alan Martin: Everyone said it's far beyond their greatest expectations. We had 189 designs submitted from over 30 states and six countries. We reviewed every single one of the 189 designs, we brought it down to 12. We had public forums to get feedback before we landed on the design that we did.
John Henry Smith: The opening dedication was private with the families. What went into making that decision?
Dan Rosenthal: There would have been no way to do that in a public fashion and provide the families the safety and comfort to attend. The eyes of the world were on these families when they were delivered the most unbearable news that any human being should ever get. We all understand the public interest, but I think at the very least we could endeavor to give them a moment at the memorial, where the eyes of the world were not on them. And I'm grateful that we were able to do that. And I would do it again 100 times over that way.
John Henry Smith: Was there any detail you would feel comfortable sharing about how that memorial went? What happened at that private dedication?
Dan Rosenthal: Sure. So it was really limited to only those that were involved somehow in the planning or construction of the project. And then, of course, the families. Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz did attend, and the families were able to lay wreaths at the memorial, which I think was a beautiful idea. It was a nice way to conclude things.
John Henry Smith: The 10-year anniversary is obviously Dec. 14. Why open so far in advance of the 10-year anniversary?
Dan Rosenthal: The closer we made it to 12/14, it would have become very difficult to manage. This way, the public has some time leading up to that date to interact with it. People can come from other points outside of Newtown to visit. And that's what we've seen.
We didn't want to make it a big, for lack of a better word, "12/14" event. [That date] should still continue to be observed the way people want to. And now of course, they can visit the memorial, if they'd like.