With protest signs in hand, more than 5,500 people flocked to Hartford Thursday to March for Change -- a rally for stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault weapons, organized in response to the Sandy Hook massacre that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators.

The rally was timed to mark the two-month anniversary of the Dec. 14 shootings.

Many of those attending, including hundreds who boarded buses from Stamford and surrounding towns, said it was time for the silent majority to be heard.

"I hope we can make a change," said Shelley Northrop, a Sandy Hook resident who took one of seven buses that left Newtown for the Capitol. "The NRA has such a strong voice. There are people who feel like I do, whose voices are not being heard because we're not organized, but that's changing."

During the bus trip, Northrop spoke about the pain felt by the community. Many people in town are connected to the massacre in some way, she said, either through a friend, a relative, a teacher or a neighbor.

"I used to say that if you don't vote, you can't complain," she said. "Now I feel that if I don't do something, I can't complain."

After stepping off the bus and onto the Capitol steps, Northrop and others unrolled a banner signed by students from Columbine High School who had been sent to Newtown in the days following the shooting.

"I'm not opposed to guns but we need stricter gun laws," said Leslie Trudell, a Newtown resident who helped Northrop carry the banner to the Capitol. "We need to have more awareness in society about the devastation these weapons can cause."

Residents from throughout the state came to be heard, and to listen to speakers who told their own tales of personal tragedy in the face of gun violence.

Sally Cox, the nurse at Sandy Hook Elementary School, came Thursday to listen, and to lend her support. When the shooting started at the school on Dec. 14, Cox could hear the gu fire, and the screams, from down the hall, she said.

When she first heard the "loud pops," Cox said she thought something had exploded in the kitchen nearby.

"Then I heard the rapid fire and the screaming," she said, "and there was nothing I could do. That sound, the sound of that gun and the speed, that's something you never forget. There are too many young people dying. Something has to be done. I believe if the assault weapon ban was still in place, this may have never happened. These guns were purchased legally."

Among those who spoke included Jillian Soto, whose sister, Victoria Soto, has been hailed as a hero for trying to save the first-grade students in her care.

"For me Vicky was a hero long before Sandy Hook," Soto said, "she didn't have to die to prove that to me."

Soto said she wanted her sister to be remembered for being a wonderful teacher, and for having a great sense of humor. She recalled a time her sister wore flamingo pajamas to school for pj day.

"That's how I want her to be remembered," Soto said. "Not as a hero staring down the barrel of an assault rifle held by an extremely sick man."

Veronique Pozner, whose 6-year-old son Noah was the youngest victim of the massacre, said citizens may have the right to bear arms, but not "weapons of mass destruction."

Pozner held up and showed the crowd a picture of a turkey Noah colored at school last year for Thanksgiving. On each of the feathers, she said, he wrote what he was thankful for, "electricity, books, family and friends."

On the center feather, Pozner said Noah wrote, "the life I live."

"That's the life that was taken," she said.

Greenwich resident Cheryl Dunston, president of the League of Women Voters of Connecticut, said she attended Thursday's rally because, "it's time for the silent majority to rise up and demand sensible gun laws."

"What's happening today is wonderful," she said. "It shows the silent majority is silent no longer, but they have to continue, by email, by calling and by texting their lawmakers demanding change."

Andrea Lee, who drove with a friend from her home in Wilton to the rally, said it's time to back up political opinions with action, "especially when we have such a well-financed opponent in the NRA."

"We are hoping to send a message to the politicians, not just from this state but across the country," she said, as chants of "now, now, now" echoed through the crowd.

Julie Rosenbauem, a primary care physician from Fairfield, attended the rally with a contingent from the National Physicians Alliance. She said the group is hoping to address gun violence as a threat to public health.

"We need to address this as public health issue, much like we did many years ago with car accidents," she said. "We made cars safer, we required more education and more licensing, and now we need to do the same with guns."

Bridgeport resident Robert Thompson reminded the crowd that young children are killed from gun violence every day in America's cities. Thompson's 14-year-old son, Justin, was killed last year when walking home with his friends from a birthday party after three masked men opened fire into the crowd.

"He was just starting to come into his own, just starting to realize that he had his whole life ahead of him," Thompson said, adding that a friend of Justin's was also "gunned down in the streets."

"I'd like to say that what happened in Newtown was an anomaly, but in urban areas this happens on a daily basis. In cities like Bridgeport children are killed every day. We have to do something."

Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, said during Thursday's rally that the three bullets still lodged in his body are a constant reminder of that day.

"I'm here today not because of what happened to me, but because it keeps happening to other people and nothing is being done about it," he said. "Hopefully this time it's different."

dperrefort@newstimes.com; 203-731-3358; www.twitter.com/DirkPerrefort