A mother stares at the unopened gift beneath the Christmas tree. She purchased the present two weeks ago to beat the holiday rush and guarantee her child's wish would be granted. She carefully wrapped it, adding a pretty bow and tag and then hid it from curious eyes. Six-year-olds still believed in Santa, after all.

But Christmas morning the gift remains unopened. Like 19 other households, a child is missing. Sparkling eyes bright with the holiday season are closed, hands still, laughter silenced.

When a killer took 26 lives in Newtown, Conn., did he also take a future of promises, dreams and hopes? In my years of reporting, I've discovered that the death of a child often prompts a parent to become involved, to change the world, to make it better. But does it only fall upon the family? Hasn't even the most hardened heart been softened by the brevity of the lives of these first-graders?

The children killed in the shooting were Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Guy, Ana Marquez-Green, Dylan Hockley, Madeline Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt. The adults included Rachel Davino, Dawn Hocksprung, Anne Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach and Victoria Soto.

The gifts of these 20 children will never be opened, but how many others have not opened their gifts? I don't speak of material things like sleds, trucks or dolls. Neither should we focus on wealth, power and pleasure.

It's time to take on the spirit of a 6-year-old. It's time to open our gifts, whatever special talent is in us, the best in our hearts to share with others, the love that can make a difference.

Representatives from different religions shared a message of love, hope and support Dec. 16 at the Newtown High School. The Rev. Matt Grebbin emphasized that we are "all in this together."

Patricia Llodra, the first selectman of Newtown, said violence would not define them, but rather they would be defined by courage, acts of love and love for children and families.

President Barack Obama told Newtown they were not alone in their grief. He said the nation "bears the responsibility for every child" and asked what gives life purpose.

"It is love that takes us out of ourselves and binds ourselves to something larger," President Obama said. "You remind us what matters and drive us forward."

The promise is still alive, the dream waiting to be fulfilled and the hope growing in others who must take up the task for these 26.

Open your gifts, whether it's a smile, a kind word, a helping hand, a hug or a simple gesture of love to show someone we care.

Twenty little angels will be watching. Don't disappoint them.

Email: lfreeman@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9434