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Giant card expresses grief, support for Conn. families

NEWINGTON - They came from all over the Seacoast because they did not know what else to do.

Mothers, sons and friends signed a giant card made of aluminum and bearing the words "You will never walk alone."

Children and seniors held Sharpies and tried to find words that could provide solace for an entire community or simply signed their names in a show of support for the people of Newtown, Conn., after the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The massive greeting card was brought to life by Hampton resident Jim Conant with the help of Signs of the Times in Exeter and SpeedPro in Portsmouth.

He wanted to do something big to help show Newtown, Conn., that New Hampshire sincerely cares about them and the grief they are feeling this holiday season.

The creation stands 8 feet tall and 4 feet wide and is hinged in the middle to form a larger-than-life greeting card. It was first signed by Gov. John Lynch and the Executive Council on Wednesday at the State House in Concord. On Thursday morning, it was displayed at the Fox Run Mall in Newington, and so many people turned out to sign it that Conant had already put in an order for another panel to be made.

The card then traveled to the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester on Thursday afternoon and will make a final stop in Keene at the Parks and Recreation Center on Washington Street from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today. On Saturday, Conant will hand deliver the card to Newtown bearing the heartfelt feelings of the State of New Hampshire.

Many of those who signed the card at the Fox Run Mall came out specifically because they had heard about it in the news.

Many thanked Conant for creating it. "I think it's just wonderful that someone is giving us all this opportunity to express our condolences to all the families down there," Corrine Giles of Dover said.

"It is such a heart-wrenching situation. It is nice to show them there are people out there that care," her friend, Laura Hamm of Somersworth added.

Aaron Yust, marketing manager at the Fox Run Mall, said it was a "no-brainer" when Conant approached him about hosting the card.

Sean Conant said his father likes to do things big when giving back to the community.

Their family is not a stranger to sudden tragedy, or what it feels like to receive support from a community.

In 2005, Jim Conant's wife, Anita, was rear-ended by a large paving truck and suffered injuries that paralyzed her from the neck down. The Seacoast community rallied to help the family as they juggled medical appointments, tried to keep paying their bills and adjusted to a new way of life.

Since getting back on their feet, Conant said he and his family have done everything they can to pay the support they received forward to others.

When he heard about the tragedy in Newtown, his heart broke with the nation's, and he immediately started thinking of a way to help the people of New Hampshire share their support.

Veteran Claude Hiltz of Portsmouth saw news of the card on television on Thursday morning and headed out to the mall to add his note of support.

"I think it's a meaningful thing for everybody," Hiltz said, tears threatening at the corners of his eyes.

Hiltz talked of his four grandchildren who are similar in age to the young lives lost in the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. "There needs to be something done about it. We need to find a way to help the people that are sick and keep the guns away from them," Hiltz said.

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Gretyl Macalaster may be reached at gmacalaster@newstote.com.



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