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'They're Not Alone'

Thousands Pack Vigil, Service For Newtown Shooting Victims

By SHAWN BEALS and JENNA CARLESSO, sbeals@courant.com

The Hartford Courant

10:15 PM EST, December 14, 2012

NEWTOWN

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They came from down the street and from Bristol and Waterbury and Brookfield, simultaneously packing a service at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and a vigil at nearby Newtown United Methodist Church. Speaking through tears, they voiced one thought:

"I never thought this would happen here," Kelly Grogan said. "It's unnatural."

Monsignor Robert Weiss of St. Rose of Lima said six or seven of the 20 students killed Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School were parishioners.

"One was going to be an angel in our Christmas pageant next week," he said. "One was getting ready to make her first communion. I baptized a few of them."

Weiss, who said he was one of the first members of the clergy on the scene, "went from family to family. It was just being there for each other."

According to police, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hill Elementary School, where his mother was a teacher, and killed 20 students and six adults. Lanza died at the scene, and police said the body of his mother, Nancy Lanza, was later found in her Yogananda Street home, police said.

Those who attended Friday night's Mass and vigil said they were there to support the families of the victims of such an unfathomable tragedy.

"Everybody knows everybody here somehow," said Josh Powers, a United Methodist parishioner who attended that church's vigil with Grogan, his fiancee.

"It's terrible what happened, especially to the little kids," said Chris Leon of Waterbury. "I have two little boys of my own, and I can't imagine what it would be like if this happened to mine."

Megan Silver, 19, came from Brookfield with four friends. "We came out to support the community. We know people are hurting, and they're not alone."

Her friend Samantha Lawlor, 16, said: "It's terrible to think of parents sending their kids on the bus to get an education and they never come home. It shouldn't happen."

Many people at United Methodist mentioned the ties that bind the close-knit community.

Sunday school teacher Debbie Nemet said some of her students were kindergartners at Sandy Hook. "This to me is the most tragic thing. I just couldn't believe it. There were no words," she said.

Said parishioner Maria Briscese: "Three members of the church had kids who attended that school. We want to find our strength through God. That's why we're here."

Less than a mile west of United Methodist, hundreds of mourners filled St. Rose of Lima Church well before the start of a 7 p.m. Mass for the victims, and hundreds more overflowed onto the lawn of the small church, holding hands and candles and singing "Silent Night."

Inside the church, where 26 candles on the altar were lit in memory of the victims, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told those at the service, "Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason."

"We came out because our town is very tight-knit," said Collin Babbage, 22, who said he grew up in Newtown. "This is national news, but on a small scale, we all support each other."

Carrie Preussi of Danbury said she had to park a half-mile away from the church and walk.

"We have some family members that went to [Sandy Hook] School so we wanted to show our support," she said. "It's just tragic."

Jim Craig said he lives about a mile away from the school and has a friend who teaches there. "You never expect anything like this to happen in Newtown, of all places." He said he was at St. Rose of Lima to support the victims' families.

Erinne-Rose Litwinczyk, who drove to United Methodist from Bristol, said: "It's heartbreaking. It really affected me. I wanted to be here to support them."

Sandy Hook resident Shannon Doherty wondered how the close-knit village would cope with the shootings' aftermath. "I don't know how the town is going to come back," he said. "I don't know if there's any blueprint for that."

"You see the president crying on TV about your village. I didn't think that would be my day when I woke up."

Doherty's wife, Tamara, added, "This doesn't happen in a town like this."

Fox CT reporter Jenny Wilson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.