Thousands descend upon Newtown to share grief

 

Newtown, Connecticut

This place of grief has become a place of pilgrimage, with people coming from all over New England and beyond to say a prayer, light a candle, lay a wreath or a teddy bear, or just stand quietly in solidarity with this heartbroken town.

Twenty-six Christmas trees, each representing a victim of last week's massacre, stand at the entrance to Sandy Hook Elementary School. They have been decorated by strangers who have come to this devastated little community by the thousands.

Gina Rider drove 130 miles from Holliston, Mass., with four small paper hearts that she and her 10-year-old son, Nicholas, had cut out and adorned with the words "Love," "Peace," "Faith" and "Hope."

"My son and I were both crying and asking what can we do to help, when we heard about the trees," Rider said. "I said, 'Let's make some ornaments, and if we do, I promise we'll put them on a tree.' "

Newtown is also a place where the growing national debate over how the United States deals with its guns and its mentally ill is deeply, painfully personal. As President Barack Obama and gun rights advocates prepare to take on those contentious subjects, discussion about them here this week is still raw.

Steve Perrelli, an insurance agent from East Haven, Conn., drove 45 minutes to Newtown because he was "overwhelmed and heartbroken" by the shootings and angered by gun laws that he believes contributed to the carnage.

He laid his offering up the street from the school, next to hundreds of others that reflect both the age of the victims and the sadness of a lost holiday season: teddy bears with Santa hats, a green Kermit the Frog and a striped Tigger, a reindeer, flowers and Christmas wreaths, all wet and splashed with mud.

"For a kid to have that kind of a gun," he said, his voice trailing off as he stared at the sopping memorial. He said he doesn't understand the argument for keeping assault weapons legal.

"Don't these people have any hearts?" he said.

Three burly EMTs from Newark, N.J. came to place votive candles, one for each victim, into a heart shape in the wet grass.

"We see this from the point of view of the first responders," said Michael Alves, dressed like his buddies in a navy-blue uniform. "We did this from our heart."

Alves, Bruno Castanheira and Oscar Caicedo said they took the day off and drove an hour and 40 minutes to pay their respects. They see the brutality of gun violence daily in their work, they said, and they don't think an assault-weapons ban would change anything.

"If somebody really wants a gun, they will find one," Castanheira said, crouching to light the candles with a cigarette lighter. "This kid, his mom had these guns legally. Even if you ban them, what's to stop somebody from just taking one from someone who has them legally?"

Grief counselors and caregivers of all varieties — from religious evangelists to a group of massage therapists from Rhode Island who came to offer free rub-downs to the Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps — have arrived in town to provide comfort.

The visitors choked Newtown's streets Tuesday, as residents tried to find normal amid the unspeakable. Funeral processions practically passed each other as two more 6-year-old victims were laid to rest: James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos.

"We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are," Jessica's parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement.

The town's students, or most of them, went back to class for the first time since Friday.

At Reed Intermediate School, they were greeted with a message: red plastic cups stuck into the chain-link fence, spelling out the word "Pray."

The district's fleet of yellow school buses bore ribbons of green and white, the Sandy Hook colors, tied to their grills.

Sandy Hook Elementary itself was empty, as it will stay for months, while an unused middle school in neighboring Monroe was being readied as a replacement.

There are dozens of gun shops within a few miles of Sandy Hook, and firearms are plentiful in this part of Connecticut, filled with rolling hills and deep woods perfect for hunting and sport shooting.

Dick's Sporting Goods, a major retail chain, sells an array of firearms in the hunting section of its store in the Danbury Fair Mall, about 15 miles west of Newtown. On Tuesday morning, however, the gun racks were cleared of all weapons. A clerk was removing even BB guns from the shelves, stacking them on a dolly.

"Out of respect for the victims and their families, during this time of national mourning we have removed all guns from sale and from display in our store nearest to Newtown and suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chainwide," the company said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Gun shop owners in the area said they had been interviewed by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. An agent left a business card at the door of J.T.'s Gun Shop in Danbury, Conn. on Monday asking the owner to "Please call ASAP!"

"Connecticut has the strongest gun laws almost in the entire country," said shop owner James Terico. "You know and I know that anyone who wants to find a gun will find one. Nothing illegal was done. What more can you do?"

Terico said that Adam Lanza, identified by police as the shooter, was "so full of hate it was unbelievable."

"To shoot your mother in the face, you have to be really disturbed," he said, adding that violent movies and video games are contributing to such violence. "It's not the guns. Why does the media always point the finger at the gun shops? Why don't they go after the moviemakers?"

H. Wayne Carver, the state's chief medical examiner, said the bodies of Lanza and his mother, Nancy Lanza, were claimed Tuesday afternoon. He would not say by whom, and he said the funeral home requested that it not be identified.

Results of toxicology tests to determine whether Adam Lanza had taken any drugs before his rampage will not be back for at least two weeks, Carter said.

After days of sealing off the neighborhood where the Lanzas lived, police opened Yogananda Street to public traffic. Two cruisers from Stamford were parked at the property to keep guard.

The house remains decorated for the holidays, a large Christmas wreath hanging above the front porch and green trim running around the columns.

It also remains a crime scene, cordoned off by hundreds if not thousands of feet of yellow tape encircling the vast, hilly front yard.

- - -

Peter Hermann and Anne V. Hull in Newtown, and Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific