On Christmas Eve In Newtown, Gifts From Afar

"It's going to take time. It will be a sad Christmas for this community.''

Like so many in Newton, Mahoney has a personal connection to the tragedy.

"I volunteered at Sandy Hook Elementary,'' Mahoney said. "Nine years. Mondays. In the library. I know all of those people. I checked books out to those kids. I can't get them out of my mind.''

Outside the old town hall building, down the stone steps, another memorial was drawing still more pilgrims all day.

A young boy stared at one of the clusters of stuffed animals, handwritten notes and flickering candles.

His face creased. His father, a compact man in a North Face jacket, noticed his son's expression. He walked over, placed a hand on the boy's head, and gently guided him toward his mother. As the father walked, his older son came over and suddenly embraced the man. The father stopped and draped his arm over the older boy's shoulder.

At the Newtown post office, workers were rushing to keep up with the crush of letters, cards and packages from people all over the world who were showing their support and sympathy.

A special box was set up, and more than 200,000 items had been logged by Christmas Eve morning, said Christine Dugas, a spokeswoman for the postal service.

Dugas said the local postal workers and letter carriers also share a connection to the community.

One carrier's route includes families of five of the children who died in the school, she said.

"[The carrier] bought lemonade from them in the summer and she knew them since birth," Dugas said. "Their way of helping the families is to deliver the good wishes from around the world. They're part of the healing process."

Courant staff writer Shawn Beals contributed to this story.