NEWTOWN -- Here, the landmarks are distinctly small town. A flagpole -- now at half-staff. Edmond Town Hall, where $2 buys admission to second-run movies.
But on Friday night, Newtown resembled communities whose names have become touchstones of tragedy: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora.
St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church became a shrine to the 27 victims of mass shooting earlier in the day at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- 20 of them children -- that put this Danbury suburb in the collective prayers of a nation.
At least 2,000 people, many of them with their arms around their children, packed the parish for a memorial service and candlelight vigil.
"When I think I baptized some of these children," Msgr. Robert Weiss, the church's pastor, told the packed sanctuary during a homily.
The crowd outside the parish grew so large that worshippers were instructed to open the church windows so those outside could hear the service.
Weiss was called to Sandy Hook's firehouse to console parents of the children killed at the school.
"This is Newtown. This is a town where families choose to live because it's safe," Weiss said.
Chris Daly, 15, stood in the cold outside the church in a daze.
"It's all in a jumble," he said.
Daly was in class at Newtown High School when a lockdown was ordered.
"I thought it was a drill, but they said it was real," he said. "A lot of people skipped classes and cried and talked."
He wondered if his community could ever recover.
"It's going to be another world," Chris said. "Everything is going to be so different."
Nearby, a mother of a child who attends another school interrupted a television interview to join a recitation of Hail Mary.
At the front of the church, 27 white candles were lit for each of the victims of the shooter, who took his own life at the school.
"I used to say I'm from Sandy Hook," said Frederika Leete, a member of the church's choir and an occupational therapist from town.
Leete said people would often get her section of Newtown confused.
" `Sandy Hook, New Jersey?' Now, they'll know where I'm from," she said.
Kerry Pettinelli brought her two daughters, Grace, a sixth-grader (not at Sandy Hook) and Lauren, a sophomore at Newtown High School, to the service.
"It's terrible, that's why we had to come," she said. "This is one of the safest towns there is. It's like a Norman Rockwell town."
A number of his parishioners live in Newtown.
"Just everybody is hurt by this," he said. "I talked to a lady whose son is best friends with a child who was shot.
What could you say? Nordskog was at a loss: "I don't have an easy answer for that."
Danny Barrett, a Newtown resident of 22 years, was incredulous.
"People ask me if I'm surprised it happened in Newtown," he said. "I'm surprised it happened anywhere. I grew up in the Bronx and I'd be surprised if it happened there."
Barrett struggled to comprehend the mindset of the gunman.
"What drove him to shoot up the school?" he said. "We'll probably never know."
The mourners sang "Be Not Afraid," and "Amazing Grace."
In the lobby of the church, several posters were displayed on easels with remembrances.
One of them said, "Heaven gained 20 angels today."
"Violence, violence, violence," Weiss said.
Robert Paolini drove up from Stratford with his girlfriend and two sons, Max, 9, and Sam, 8.
A friend's nephew escaped the school unharmed.
"It's scary," Paolini said. "It's right around Christmas. You don't know what drives people to this point."
Grief-stricken residents shivered in the 30-degree temperatures near a manger scene outside the church.
His mother is a teacher's assistant at another school.
"She's pretty distraught," he said. "She definitely knew some of the people that worked there."
"I know that we had a couple of parishioners whose kids go there," he said.
"It's quite surreal. Just who would have thought Newtown?"
"It helps to grieve as a community," Vogel said. "It's an unspeakable tragedy. We need each other."
Gary Seri, who owns the Stone River Grille near the school, attended the service.
"We knew the principal," said Seri, with his 13-year-old son Noah at his side. "It's just a nightmare. I pass the school 10 times a day."
Dr. Ed Schork, a clinical child psychologist from Danbury, was also drawn to the service.
"I came out if a profound sense of sadness," Schork said. "I can imagine how painful it is for the parents of the children. This is one of the most insensible, deranged and horrible things I've seen in 30 years of practicing."
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