When Francesca Vollaro heard about the massacre in Newtown, she like so many others felt compelled to reach out to the victims' families in hopes of providing some kind of comfort. The only hurdle? She's stationed in Afghanistan right now with her fellow National Guardsmen of the 508th Military Police Company.
But not being stateside was not an issue. Vollaro organized a flag-raising ceremony, held Dec. 31, to honor the 20 children and six adults who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
"We are able to see the news going on at home so we heard about this right when it happened," Vollaro said. "Basically we were all just sitting there in shock. It kept on playing over and over again and a lot of us either have small siblings or children that age so it upset all of us."
Vollaro and her fellow guardsmen decided they would raise a flag for each victim. She used websites like CNN.com to research each person, and one soldier would read a few words about their assigned person while showing the rest of the group a photo.
"I took little things that stood out from each victim -- their accomplishments or something they enjoyed doing," Vollaro said. "I tried to match them up well. One close friend here loves hockey so I chose the one child who loves hockey and food – just like my friend. A lot of the soldiers really enjoyed that. It was kind of like a gift to them."
During the ceremony, Vollaro said everyone was very emotional but they "kept it together." A group of onlookers even gathered to watch and pay respects.
"Sitting in formation while we raised each flag and read a quote was tough. Everyone thought different things in their head. We had to hold it in and it each affected us all around the world in a different way," she said.
Now, the flags are on their way to the Newtown Police Department, where they will then be distributed to the victims' family members. The police department and town hall are also receiving their own flags. Vollaro said she and the rest of the Company are anxious for them to arrive, probably in about a week. They tossed around ideas about having their own families or fellow soldiers in the states distributing them in a ceremony, but that will most likely be handled privately by Newtown officials.
"Since it's such a tragic event, we wanted to keep it simple. We didn’t want to make the presentation of them [the flags] a big deal because we don’t know what the families would be most comfortable with. We wanted to keep this intimate."