By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Region – Like millions of people around the globe, singer/songwriter Justin Cohen was devastated by the senseless murders of 20 children and six adults in the Newtown, Conn. massacre in December. Out of that grief, he wrote the song, “26 Angels.”
It was the idea of his friend Ben Proulx, a director/producer, Cohen said, to take the project a step further and create a video of the song featuring a children's chorus. That idea then turned into another – use the video as a way to raise funds for a memorial park in Newtown.? And over the course of just a few days, the project became a reality, garnering praise from many, including family members of the victims.
“I wrote the song but this project was truly a great collaborative effort,” Cohen said. “It all came together so quickly – in five days it was written, recorded and produced.”
One of the team members, Becki Dennis, the founder and owner of Talent Tools, helped to cast the video. An online search led her to Shrewsbury resident Natasha Colonero's Facebook page, New England Kids Actors Group.
“A lot of the kids in the group, including my sons [Dante, 10 and Gianni, 8], have been involved with theatre and as extras in movies,” Natasha said. “They had of course heard about the tragedy and were really sad so they were glad for the chance to be in this project.”
“I was a wreck when I heard about the shootings. But this [project] somewhat helps us to cope,” she added. “We all want to make a difference and help these families; it helps us to know we are doing our part.”
Twenty children from across the state, including five from Shrewsbury, took part in the video. Besides the Colonero boys, Shrewsbury students Syra Pandey, 10, Matthew Thomann, 10, and Samuel Thomann, 8, were cast. Five musicians accompanied Cohen as well.
Each child was first assigned the name of one of the Newtown victims. They researched and then created cards that noted the name and pertinent facts about that person. During the video, the cards were raised one by one and then all together at the end.
The children, who were ages 12 and under, “were so
devoted to the project,” Dennis said.
“A few of the kids got a bit antsy now and then on the day of the filming – it was a long day, 12 hours,” she said. “But then someone would say, “It's ok, we'se here for a good reason” and everyone would settle down. They were all fabulous.”
After Dante was assigned Jesse Lewis's name, Natasha was actually able to get in touch with Jesse's mother, Scarlett.
“She told us more about her son and even emailed some pictures to us,” Natasha said. “That really helped us to know Jesse.”
Cohen said he too had heard from Scarlett and one of Jesse's uncles.
“We definitely had tears in our eyes,” he added. “It was a humbling moment.”
The song was first recorded under the direction of Connor Hayes and Justin Friedberg, of Project 2 Studio in Manchester, N.H. The video was then shot at the Collins Center for the Performing Arts at Andover High School. Everyone involved in the project donated their time and talents, Dennis noted.
The goal, the team said, is to help raise funds for efforts to create a memorial park in Newtown. In such a park, they hope to place an “Angel of Hope” statue where families and other people may go to quietly reflect and remember those who were taken too soon. Similar statues, based on one in the book, “The Christmas Angel” by author Richard Paul Evans, have been placed in other parts of the country.
The team has set up a website, www.26angelstribute.com, and Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/26angelsvideo, to help publicize their efforts.? The video had received nearly 10,000 hits on YouTube in the two days after it was posted. (To see the video, go to – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nATJ1vrhgT8. )
Photos/courtesy Heidi Hayes-Pandey