Father Bob

As he stood near the front door of the Sandy Hook Elementary School on the morning of Dec. 14, shattered glass near his feet, Monsignor Robert Weiss knew he was as close to evil as he would ever get.

He said a prayer for the dead near the front entrance and then went back up to the nearby firehouse. It was then that Father Bob, as he is known to almost everyone in the tight-knit community, began to realize the enormity of the tragedy facing the families of the dead and the town itself. The night of the shooting at an impromptu memorial service he told the crowd, "evil visited us but we have to get through it and find some good."

It became a theme for the town. Variations of what Weiss said that night about "choosing good" are now on bumper stickers, signs and logos. (Richard Messina | rmessina@courant.com / March 7, 2013)

"There were all sorts of rumors that children were running around in the woods and the police were still finding them or that some of them had been taken to the hospital and were still alive,'' Weiss said.

As the day wore on it became apparent that some children weren't coming home. Weiss said he saw "love at its best" in that room.

"There were parents hugging each other,'' Weiss said. "Many of the children were good friends and the parents kept talking about this image of all of them holding hands as they went to heaven together."

Later that night, following the memorial service, Weiss accompanied a state trooper to two homes — just to be there when the families were officially informed their child was dead. There were eight children whose families were parishioners of St. Rose, as is the family of slain aide Mary Anne Murphy.

The next day, Weiss visited each family to check on them. Back at the church, flowers were arriving by the bunches and people were lighting candles faster than staff could put more out. A makeshift memorial was rapidly growing in front of a statute on church grounds.

"People were walking around almost numb with grief and despair and they arrived by the hundreds at the church,'' said Michael Tintrup, executive director of Catholic Charities, who arrived with his team Saturday morning. "Monsignor Weiss was magnificent. He was everywhere; a real presence in the church when people needed it most."

'Where Are We Safe?'

Tintrup had never met Weiss until that day. What impressed him the most was that the families of the slain children specifically wanted to talk only to "Father Bob."

On the Sunday after the shootings, Weiss was in the rectory while the mid-morning Mass was underway when a phone call came in from a man threatening to blow up the church. Weiss ran out and got a state police officer who was directing traffic.

Weiss said the trooper had them put the caller on speakerphone and let him talk. Authorities listened for clues as to whether he was a friend of Lanza.

"He kept repeating that 'I am coming there to finish the job that Adam started,''' Weiss said. "He was obviously disoriented, but the threat was clear."

The monsignor ran to the church and walked up to the vestibule. He calmly told people that they needed to evacuate. As nervous churchgoers were leaving the church, SWAT team members in full gear were coming in.

"I think that was one of my lowest moments. I just kept thinking, 'Where are we safe?'" Weiss said. "These people had already been through so much. How much more can they be expected to take?"

On Monday, Weiss sent teams of church staff to meet with each family and begin preparations for the funerals. Murphy was buried in New York, but the rest of the parishioners had funerals at St. Rose.

"I did every wake and every funeral. It was a long week,'' Weiss said. He got his inspiration from the parents of the dead children. In all but one case, a parent of the child gave a eulogy.

"I thought if these parents have the strength to do what they had done than I can certainly do it, too,'' Weiss said.

The last to be buried was Josephine Gay, whose family decided to have her buried near their new home in Massachusetts rather than in Newtown. Her father had just gotten a new job and the family was supposed to move permanently to Massachusetts only weeks later.

Weiss was driven to Massachusetts by a state trooper. As they passed through each town in Massachusetts, the police department from that community had a motorcycle officer join the procession into the cemetery.

"That is when I truly realized how big this was and how much of an impact what had happened was having on everyone, not just our community,'' Weiss said.

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