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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

£50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor