SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-six Redbud trees now line the entrance to the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Community leaders dedicated the grove of trees Thursday in remembrance of the 26 victims of the Newtown, Conn., shootings on Dec. 14.
“The cemetery is a sacred and historic place in Salt Lake City, and a revered ground. What better place to remember the spirits of all the children and adults that lost their lives,” Salt Lake City urban forester Bill Rutherford said.
A gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 and killed 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman, who had also killed his mother that morning, committed suicide as police arrived.
The trees line the sidewalk at the entrance of the cemetery in the Avenues neighborhood at 200 N St. Each tree has a picture and name of one of the victims attached to it, including 6-year-old Emilie Parker, the daughter of Robbie and Alyssa Parker, who grew up in the Ogden area. The type of tree was chosen because of its attributes.
“Redbuds are a harbinger of spring for they are among the first trees to flower, renew growth and herald a new beginning,” Rutherford said. “Foliage is arranged along a zigzag twig, almost childlike in its whimsical variation, and each leaf is distinctively heart-shaped.”
The trees, which are native to Connecticut, will grow to be approximately 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide.
The location of the trees is also a symbolic part of the dedication. “Because literally, thousands and thousands of people enter the cemetery through the gate every year, and these trees will now give them a warm and special greeting that before they were planted didn’t exist.”
Alicia Caldwell lived in Newtown from 1995 to 1997 and attended Newtown High School. “It’s a small, beautiful community,” she said. “I haven’t lived there in 15 years, and it (the shooting) shook me to my core.”
She still has very close friends who live there, and living in Utah and not being able to do anything for her friends has been difficult, she said. She attended the dedication ceremony Thursday and believes the memorial grove is a good idea because people in Newtown need all the love they can get.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Caldwell said. “I love that they’re doing something all the way out here,” to support the residents of Newtown.
The decision to create a memorial grove came from the heart. “I think there’s a lot of support throughout the world for the victims and the people of Newtown that have gone through something that none of us would wish for anybody,” Rutherford said.
A candlelight vigil for the students and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary was held following the dedication.
“It’s, I think, our way here in Salt Lake City to reach across the miles to the Connecticut families who are suffering, let them know they’re in our thoughts and prayers,” Rutherford said.