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NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The families of many of those who died last year in a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, gathered on Monday to encourage people to perform an act of kindness on the anniversary of the slayings.
In a tearful procession, representatives from 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School families stood up to say they would light a candle to mark the anniversary this Saturday.
"We hope that some small measure of good may be returned to the world," said JoAnn Bacon, who lost her 6-year-old, Charlotte, last December 14, when a gunman entered the school and shot 20 children and six adults before turning a gun on himself.
The families also announced the launch of a new website, Mysandyhookfamily.org, to honor the victims. The website is intended to create a "singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day."
"In the midst of our grief we have come to realize that we want our loved ones to be remembered for the lives they lived and how they touched our hearts," said Krisa Rekos, whose 6-year-old daughter, Jessica, died in the shooting.
The shootings shocked the nation and led President Barack Obama to propose a series of new gun-control measures, including an expansion of federal background check laws. Those efforts were blocked in the U.S. Senate after some lawmakers argued the changes would be onerous to law-abiding gun owners.
In a report released last month, state investigators said the gunman acted alone, using guns legally purchased by his mother, whom he shot dead before driving to the school. His motive and reason for targeting Sandy Hook, a school he once attended, remain a mystery, the report said.
Earlier on Monday, officials in Newtown, a suburban town about 70 miles northeast of New York City, held a news conference with television reporters to ask for privacy and a restrained media presence as the anniversary nears.
"We can't choose to not have this horrible thing happen to us. It happened. We cannot make it un-happen," said First Selectman Pat Llodra. "But we can choose how we react to it."
"Please respect our need to be alone and to be quiet and to have that personal time to continue on our journey of grief in the way that serves us," she said.
Newtown's police chief, Michael Kehoe, said the town would have extra police officers on duty over the coming weekend and that the department's goal would be to encourage an atmosphere of normalcy.
Many of those directly affected by the shooting, including parents of the children killed that day, have said they plan to be out of town this week. Groups that have used Newtown as a rallying call in advocating for changes in public policy have also vowed to stay out of Newtown on the anniversary, holding events in Washington and other cities instead.
"We are broken," said Matt Crebbin, the coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association. He encouraged people in Newtown and elsewhere to perform acts of kindness as a way to allow something positive to emerge from the tragedy.
"In Newtown, we know that we have to choose to be kind to one another every day because all of us are dealing with a whole variety of challenges," Crebbin said. "Kindness is a choice that we all make."
Additional reporting by Edith Honan in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis