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Tragedy transformed into hope: Playground dedicated to Sandy Hook victim at Long Lots

Published 5:26 pm, Saturday, June 15, 2013

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  • An emotional Nicole Hockley reacts Saturday moments after the official unveiling of the Long Lots School playground dedicated to her son Dylan, 6, who died last December in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.  WESTPORT NEWS, CT 6/15/13 Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News
    An emotional Nicole Hockley reacts Saturday moments after the official unveiling of the Long Lots School playground dedicated to her son Dylan, 6, who died last December in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 6/15/13 Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Terry Moretti, whose grandson Dylan Hockley was one of 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December, told a Westport gathering to dedicate a playground in the 6-year-old's memory Saturday, that the boy considered himself a butterfly.

One day, she told the ceremony at Long Lots School, Dylan had been fluttering his hands and his mother asked what he was doing. "I'm a beautiful butterfly," he told her.

"He was a beautiful butterfly," Moretti reiterated. "We miss him."

But as Moretti explained, sometimes when butterflies fly aloft, great change takes place. So it is that Dylan Hockley's legacy -- and the 25 others who perished in the Newtown school massacre -- has motivated many tributes, including the playground at Long Lots.

The new playground was formally dedicated to the memory of Dylan on Saturday as hundreds of people, including family, friends, neighbors and officials turned out to celebrate the memory of the boy in whose honor the structure was built over a week's time, part of the "Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play."

"It's beautiful," Moretti said, "and Dylan would have loved it most of anyone. It's think it's wonderful what the firefighters are doing."

Bill Lavin, a New Jersey firefighter and head of that state's firefighter union, conceived of the idea of building 26 playgrounds in memory of Newtown victims in communities that had been affected by Superstorm Sandy last year. This was the fourth project built as part of the project -- another has been proposed at Penfield Beach in Fairfield. Long Lots was chosen to honor Dylan because the boy's family has relatives in Westport.

"It's really pretty, and I hope all the children in Westport enjoy it," Moretti said.

The $100,000 Long Lots project benefitted from donations of time and equipment from members of the Hockley family, Westport emergency personnel, teachers, PTA members and area businesses, including A.J. Penna Construction Co., Kowalsky Brothers Construction Co. and Gault Energy.

The Long Lots playground project is part of a larger "pay it forward" movement organized by the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.

"Meeting the families, for me, has been just inspiring," said Lavin, who continues to raise funds for the Sandy Ground playgrounds.

Dylan's father, Ian Hockley, called Lavin "a man with a large heart (and) great vision." He noted that purple was Dylan's favorite color, and that he used to bring home many drawings with purple dots.

He also said that butterflies, which are part of the playground motif, symbolize "transformation."

Hockley said that work on the playground began on a day of torrential rain, but "Here we are a week later and it's a beautiful day, and I think that's transformation."

"I think the Westport community came together beautifully for this memorial," said Lauren Goodman, Long Lots PTA co-president.

She said $12,500 for the project was raised at the school, $11,500 of which went toward the playground and $1,000 was donated to Dylan Wings of Change, a charity set up by the family for children with special needs.

Long Lots Principal Rex Jones called the project "a powerful example of people coming together to collaborate for a really great purpose."

Nancy Allen, the parent of a Long Lots student, said, "It's just an amazing cause and just an amazing moment for our community and our state."

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff applauded the numerous volunteers who made the playground possible, who included Westport's emergency personnel, as well as donations from local businesses.

"It's sad that we have to do it, but it's a living tribute to those who died," he said.

For more information about the Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play, go to www.thesandygroundproject.org