NEWTOWN -- Under a blanket of snowfall, the once chaotic intersection of Church Hill and Glen roads is now quiet, the massive memorial to victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting gone without a trace Saturday.
The memorial, as well as another outside the main Sandy Hook volunteer fire station, was taken down ahead of a storm that was expected to drop as much as 4 inches of snow on the area Saturday afternoon and night.
A crew of 20 town employees began work late Friday and labored for hours into early Saturday to remove, by hand, the elaborate memorials that cropped up soon after the Dec. 14 shooting.
"The storm really created a problem for us," said Fred Hurley, Newtown's director of public works. "It forced our hand here."
Earlier in the week, he had said the memorials would remain through New Year's Day.
On Friday afternoon, families of the 26 children and educators killed in the shooting were invited to privately view the memorials and take whatever mementos they wanted. Newtown and state police kept the public away during the families' visit.
For two weeks, the streets in Sandy Hook have been packed with cars and pedestrians making pilgrimages to see the memorials and add to their mass. By Saturday afternoon, the center was quiet in the midst of the snowstorm, and businesses had closed early.
Vito Kala, owner of Villa Pizza & Restaurant on Riverside Drive in Sandy Hook, said he hoped the memorials' end would mark a return to normalcy. His restaurant, which had been blocked to traffic along with all of Riverside Drive, has suffered noticeably in the two weeks following the tragedy.
"Now, I just hope we can get back to normal," he said. "It's so quiet here now."
On Friday night, town workers shoveled teddy bears and ornaments, child-size cowboy boots, Christmas trees, posters and cards into large boxes. The boxes were then loaded onto shipping palates to be kept in the Public Works Department cold storage facility, preserved to later be composted and used as soil at a memorial site, or ground up and mixed with slurry to form concrete blocks for a permanent memorial.