NEWTOWN, Conn. – In a picturesque Connecticut town that could have inspired Norman Rockwell in another era, parents and neighbors clung to each other for support and wondered how such unspeakable evil could have descended on their youngest residents.
The Christmas lights and holiday decorations adorning Newtown, an affluent town an hour’s drive north of New York City, blinked obliviously Friday night as townspeople filed into St. Rose Church just 10 hours after a crazed gunman burst into an elementary school and murdered 20 children and six adults.
"I'm grieving terribly as part of a community and as a mother," said Anne Vogel, 50, who lives in Newtown's Sandy Hook neighborhood, where the shooting occurred. "It is torturous in every way, the not knowing and the knowing. There are so many spiritual questions about, why children? It's not supposed to be this way."
Vogel's 14-year-old daughter, who is homeschooled, has many friends in the close-knit town, some of whom have siblings at the school.
"She's in constant communication with friends, texting back and forth," Vogel said. "We're all grieving. We're all having a hard time with this. I can't believe I'm standing here crying for 20 babies killed today."
Lauren Pettinelli, 19, said the small town is horrified by the killing spree of Adam Lanza, the man law enforcement sources say shot his mother, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at home and then drove to the school and slaughtered her entire kindergarten class, killing 20 children and six adults.
"I knew someone that knew him,” she said. “He was a grade older than me. We know people that knew him and he seemed normal. A year above me. It's just crazy."
Even wizened police officers shared hugs outside the packed church, as mourners, many kids wearing pajamas, peered through windows and hovered outside the church.
Marshall Odeen, of nearby Ridgefield, said a co-worker lost a child in the tragedy.
“I have young children,” Odeen said. “It’s just unspeakable. We have to look at the illness that causes (people to do things like) this.
Odeen paused and then asked the question on the lips of an entire town.
“How could something like this happen?”