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
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
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: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick