A Sense Of Loss and Dread Lingers In Newtown

Shared Pain

Newtown's pain has rippled far beyond the community, and people streamed toward the town all day Monday, creating a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam that stretched back to the highway.

In the center of Sandy Hook, less than a quarter-mile from the elementary school, an improvised memorial grew larger and larger as visitors brought tokens of sympathy. The result was a massive pile of balloons, flickering votives, Beanie Babies and Build-A-Bears, bouquets, rosary beads, prayer cards, poetry verses, plastic angels and paper cranes. The lower branches of a towering pine were laden with cards and pictures, some delivered from Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere.

A truck driver from Canada on his way to a delivery in Middlebury parked his rig on I-84 and walked into town to deposit a stuffed white bear adorned with a green ribbon — the elementary school's colors. As the father of a 9-year-old daughter, he said, he figured it was the least he could do.

A trio of lacrosse players from the University of New Haven came to the memorial site after spending the morning running around in a gym with children from the town. The college students played kickball and other games with a group of primary school kids "to help them cope and take their minds off things,'' said Kyle Hurley, a 21-year-old from Rhode Island.

"We just wanted to help," said James Egan, 19, of New York. "And to see them running around with smiles on their faces."

That same impulse brought Tim Engel and Barnabas to Newtown. Engel, a Lutheran minister from the Chicago area, and Barnabas, a nearly 3-year-old golden retriever, are part of a "comfort dog" program run by Lutheran Church Charities.

"Last month, Barnabas and I were in New York and New Jersey after Sandy,'' said Engel, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Portage, Indiana.

The group brought nine golden retrievers to Connecticut. Six went to a community center where children had gathered, and three, Barnabas among them, were mingling among the crowd at the memorial site.

"It's been tremendous," Engel said. "The people just come up and embrace the dogs and talk to the dogs."

The dogs "by their very nature impart hope and encouragement," said Engel. "And then they give us the opportunity to talk with people and to pray with people."

Eric J. Pongonis and his wife, April, came to pay their respects. "I've just been crying all weekend thinking about this," April Pongonis said. "I can't sleep at night."

The couple had decided earlier this year to keep their twin 5-year-old daughters in day care for another year instead of enrolling them at Sandy Hook Elementary.

"We witnessed parents running up the hill to the school and that's when it really hit me," Eric J. Pongonis said. "Our girls would have been there."

Near the memorial, four young men, including Fred Knapp, a cousin of slain teacher Victoria Soto, held a cardboard box of green-and-white ribbons with the message "faith, hope, love."

"It's a way to show support," said Thomas Mastrocinque. "We're a small town, we all know each other, we're all in each other's business. There's absolutely nobody from this town, not one person, who doesn't know somebody [who died] or who wasn't hurt by this."

Knapp wore a solid green ribbon in a different shade from the others, similar to ones handed out Saturday night in Stratford at a vigil for Victoria Soto.

"It was her favorite color," he said.

World News

The memorial is not far from the international TV news army that has settled in.