By RICK GREEN, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
9:23 PM EST, December 15, 2012
NEWTOWN – It was a bright December day unlike any this town had ever seen.
Holiday decorations and Christmas trees were everywhere, but the mood was indescribable grief as residents struggled to come to grips with the killing of 20 little children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"Nothing will ever be the same for us. The senseless slaughter of innocents scars the soul and overwhelms the mind,'' the Rev. Mark Moore told a vigil at St. John's Episcopal Church in the village of Sandy Hook. Until Friday, one resident said, a knocked-over mailbox might be considered a crime in this safe and serene town of 27,000.
"What has gone so wrong in our world?" Moore asked. "How can we believe in a good, loving God that allows such innocent suffering? Such evil? But nonetheless, in faith, we must respond."
Twelve girls and eight boys are gone. Sandy Hook is now spoken in the same sentence as Columbine. The president will be here Sunday night.
In a late Saturday afternoon television address, a still-shaken Gov. Malloy told Newtown, the state and the country what everyone, all over, was discovering. "What's important right now is this: love, courage, and compassion.''
Struggling to cope, Leslie Gunn dug deep into the mulch in her backyard, shoveling and digging, trying to forget. "It was a regular day. It was a beautiful day,'' she said, remembering Friday morning before everything changed.
An art teacher at the school for 17 years, Gunn was beginning a clay sculpture class with a group of 23 fourth-graders when the shooting began. After she locked the doors and herded her children into a small storage room and gunshots were exploding, some of her brave boys started to cry. She could think of just one thing to say. "I love you."
"I will never forget their faces, and they will be with me forever."
Quiet and somber shops in town were busy as media swarmed and residents wandered through downtown Newtown. There were signs on every street corner.
"Pray for our victims, town and country," a sign read. "OUR HEARTS ARE BROKEN," stated another in pink chalk. On a table outside one barber shop teddy bears in red Santa hats held a vigil. There were crayons for written prayers.
A church on the corner offered a "healing prayer." Teary-eyed residents, many with their children, came with flowers, messages and toys that they placed in various locations throughout the town. Bouquets of flowers lay under small Christmas trees on a busy street corner. A collection of stuffed animals leaned against a barrier blocking the road to the school.
So many cars streamed into the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church parking lot that police had to direct traffic. About 1,000 people packed into the church for a 4 p.m. Mass that offered prayers for those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.
A memorial of religious candles, stuffed animals and roses grew around St. Rose's outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary. Nearby, mourners lit more candles and offered more gifts for the young. A stuffed monkey leaned against a sign with careful handwriting: "Sleep in heavenly peace."
More than 60 funeral directors have agreed to help the families of the victims, said Pasquale Folino, president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association and vice president of Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home in New London and Niantic.
"Right now we have a team of funeral directors that have volunteered to provide support services, to provide motor equipment, transportation," he said. "Casket companies are providing caskets, vault companies are providing the vaults."
"Funeral directors are human, and we live in these communities. … We put aside our emotions, we take care of the families and then we cry when we go home," Folino said. "You can't help but be affected by this."
Colin Collier, just home from college, joined a group of his friends to set up stations around Sandy Hook asking for donations for the affected families.
"We all got together last night and wanted to do something and this was all we came up with, fundraising for the families affected,'' Collier said. "Just being out here and showing we're a community, we care about each other."
At Treadwell Park, the gathering point for the media, hundreds of reporters from around world waited for news conferences that were delayed for hours. Satellite trucks were parked as far as the eye could see, from one end of the park to another, and beyond. A helicopter hovered overhead for much of the day.
Just before state police released the names of victims in the late afternoon, First Selectwoman E. Patricia Llodra pleaded with the media and everyone watching to "help us in this healing process."
"Please treat our community with kindness. Please know that we have suffered an incredible loss,'' Llodra said. "We need your respect on this healing journey."
On Saturday evening, the soft-spoken father of a blue-eyed girl who perished showed the depth of this community's bravery and compassion.
"The world is a better place because she has been in it,'' Robert Parker, 30, father of six-year-old Emilie Parker said in a news conference in front of his church. Fighting back tears, Parker eloquently asked the world to grieve for his child, his town and the family of the alleged shooter.
"Let it not turn into something that defines us,'' said Parker, who saw his daughter a final time briefly on Friday morning, just before he rushed off to work.
"She said she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door."
"I have no idea how to deal with this," said Parker, a physician's assistant who moved to Newtown just eight months ago. "We find strength in our religion, our faith and our family. I just hope that everybody gets the help that they need.
"We are all in this together. And we are forever linked by this event."
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