Published December 17, 2012
The small Connecticut town where a madman gunned down 20 children and six adults at an elementary school took the initial, grim steps of the grief-ridden journey that awaits it, even as it sought to re-establish normalcy for surviving children in a shattered holiday season.
The first two young victims of Friday's school shooting in Newtown were buried Monday, in tragic scenes that will be replayed over and over in the coming days. At the same time, school was to resume Tuesday, with the students from Sandy Hook Elementary School being sent to a former middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Their desks are being taken to the Chalk Hill school in Monroe, empty since town schools consolidated last year, and tradesmen are donating their services to get the school ready within a matter of days.
"These are innocent children that need to be put on the right path again," Monroe police Lt. Brian McCauley said.
But with more funerals planned this week, children who should be anticipating the holidays are instead being hugged by somber parents and wondering what kind of world they are growing up in. The first funerals in Newtown, Conn., were for two 6-year-olds: Jack Pinto, a year-old New York Giants fan who might be buried in wide receiver Victor Cruz's jersey, and Noah Pozner, who liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. His twin sister, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the shooting.
"He was just a really lively, smart kid," said Noah's uncle Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Wash. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."
Residents of the idyllic town an hour north of New York City set about the grim task and wondered how they would go on. Sandy Hook elementary school remains closed as the children that survived the Friday massacre heal in the embrace of their families.
"We're just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed," said Robert Licata, the father of a student who escaped harm during the shooting. "He's not even there yet."
Family, friends and townspeople streamed to two funeral homes Monday. In front of one where relatives were mourning Noah, well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a single red rose at the base of a maple tree.
At Jack's service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home.
Classes were canceled Monday, and Newtown's other schools were to reopen Tuesday. The district made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to a former school building in a neighboring town but could not say when.
With more funerals planned this week, the road ahead for Newtown, which had already started purging itself of Christmas decorations in a joyful season turned mournful, was clouded.
"I feel like we have to get back to normal, but I don't know if there is normal anymore," said Kim Camputo, mother of two children, 5 and 10, who attend a different school. "I'll definitely be dropping them off and picking them up myself for a while."
Jim Agostine, superintendent of schools in nearby Monroe, said plans were being made for students from Sandy Hook to attend classes in his town this week.
Newtown police Lt. George Sinko said he "would find it very difficult" for students to return to the same school where they came so close to death. But, he added, "We want to keep these kids together. They need to support each other."
Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said state construction employees are giving their advice on renovating Sandy Hook, which serves grades kindergarten through four.
On Sunday, President Obama came to Connecticut on Sunday to express his sorrow for those suffering after the fatal mass shooting of 26 people and to call for an end to such incidents -- offering “the love and hope of a nation” and saying “these tragedies must end.”
The president spoke at the Newtown High School after meeting privately with families of the victims and emergency personnel who responded to the deadly shootings Friday inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“I am very mindful that words cannot match the depths of your sorrow,” the president said. “But whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. … Newtown, you are not alone.”
The president spoke at a lectern, in front of which was a table set with 26 glass-covered candles, one for each of the 6- and 7-year-olds fatally shot.
“Surely, we can do better than this,” said Obama in what was his fourth trip as president to a grieving city after a mass shooting. While he didn't endorse any specific gun control measures Sunday evening, he suggested he would be entering that debate in the weeks to come.
"These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change," Obama said.
Authorities identified the shooter Friday as 20-year-old Adam Lanza. He fatally shot his mother before going to the school and killed himself.
Authorities said Lanza was carrying an arsenal of hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition -- enough to kill nearly every student in the school if given enough time, raising the chilling notion that the bloodbath could have been even worse. Lanza shot himself in the head when he heard police approaching the classroom where he was gunning down helpless children.
Lanza was described as a bright but painfully awkward student who seemed to have no close friends.
In high school, he was active in the technology club. The club adviser remembered that he had "some disabilities" and seemed not to feel pain like the other students. That meant Lanza required special supervision when using soldering tools, for instance. He also had an occasional "episode" in which he seemed to withdraw completely from his surroundings, the adviser said. Authorities said Lanza had no criminal history, and it was unclear whether he had a job.
Some say the Connecticut shootings may have changed the political dynamic in Washington, although public opinion in favor of gun control has declined over the years. While the White House has said Obama stands by his desire to reinstate a ban on military-style assault weapons, he has not pushed Congress to act.
Several Democratic lawmakers, during appearances on the Sunday talk shows, said the gruesome killings at the school were the final straw in a debate on gun laws that has fallen to the wayside in recent years.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who is retiring, suggested a national commission on mass violence that would examine gun laws and what critics see as loopholes, as well as the mental health system and violence in movies and video games. Durbin said he supports the idea, and would add school safety to the list of topics to examine.
Gun rights activists remained largely quiet on the issue, all but one declining to appear on the talk shows. However, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, defended the sale of assault weapons and said that the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who authorities say died trying to overtake the shooter, should herself have been armed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.