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Town 'will never be the same again'

Updated 10:19 pm, Saturday, December 15, 2012

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  • Congregants arrive for a prayer service at Adath Israel, in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 15th, 2012, the day after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 27 people were killed. Photo: Ned Gerard / Connecticut Post
    Congregants arrive for a prayer service at Adath Israel, in Newtown, Conn. Dec. 15th, 2012, the day after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 27 people were killed. Photo: Ned Gerard

 

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NEWTOWN -- "Our town will never be the same again," Lorraine Godrey said Saturday, tears streaming down her face.

Godfrey, a longtime Newtown resident, was one of many in the community heartbroken by the school shooting that left nearly 30 people, including 20 children, dead on Friday.

Makeshift memorials were erected all over town -- at churches, the school the children attended, and the corner of Church Hill Road and Washington. The latter is where Godfrey and friend Jayne Turner, also a longtime Newtown resident, were paying their respects late Saturday afternoon.

The memorial consisted of trees surrounded by luminary bags and devastated residents stopped by throughout the day to tearfully honor both lost loved ones and their shattered community.

Though Turner and Godfrey don't think they knew anyone killed in the attacks, the mere thought that this could happen in their town hurt them deeply. "I never even left the house yesterday," Turner said.

Townwide, hundreds of people mourned, seeking comfort in each other, faith and counseling services. Grief counseling was offered at Reed Intermediate School throughout the day and, as of early Saturday evening, roughly 200 people had used the services.

Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, worked at the school throughout the day, mainly helping to occupy the more than 60 children who accompanied their parents to the school. She said most of the people she encountered were those directly affected by the shooting. "What you see is parents in deep anguish, really struggling to be good parents" despite their suffering, Zimmerman said.

The children are in anguish too, and Zimmerman said many wrote letters to Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung, who died in the attacks. "This is a very strong community, very caring and very concerned with doing the appropriate thing," Zimmerman said.

In addition to counseling, grieving town residents also turned to religious institutions looking for answers and solace. Members of the community filtered in and out of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church on Saturday afternoon. Many left flowers and other tokens at a statue in a courtyard near the Catholic church.

Darlene Donohue, a Newtown resident for the past three years, said she doesn't know if she has a connection to any of the victims, but that it's likely. "I have a feeling that, in this town, there's only going to be one degree of separation," Donohue said. "Everyone is going to know someone (affected by this)."

Donohue, who left a handful of roses at the statue, said she has grandchildren the age of those killed in the shooting. "I just can't fathom" how this could happen, she said.

Others who came to the church included Michael Murphy-Trevail, an administrator who runs Newtown's before- and after-school programs. He was off on Friday, but would have been leaving Sandy Hook at about the same time the alleged shooter Adam Lanza burst into the school.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Murphy-Trevail said.

He described the principal, Dawn Hochsprung as outgoing and warm. "She brought coffee in the morning," he said.

Murphy-Trevail came to Newtown two years ago from Colorado. His family lives in the town. Like many other residents, he expressed disbelief over the events of the past day, which has seemingly shattered the vision of a picturesque community made up of good neighbors.

"Newtown is known as a really good town," he said. "It's that surburbia where everyone pitches in. There's no violence. Everyone gets along. We hardly ever get anything like this."

Saturday morning, more than 100 people attended a service at Congregation Adath Israel Synagogue, during which Rabbi Shaul Praver urged families to respond to the shooting not with anger and vengeance, but with peace and love. He lamented how violence-obsessed our culture is, and told worshippers that the only way to change things was to be messengers for peace.

"This is a horrific event that needs to be counted in a positive way," Praver said.

To help achieve that goal, he said people need to reach out to their neighbors affected by the shootings with food, friendship and any kind of support they can give.

He said the shootings reaffirm the "presence of evil in the world." He told the congregation to remember that "it's not God who did these things, but a deranged person."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman also attended the service held in the Huntington Road synagogue.

"There's precious little that can be said in a time like this, other than to understand that this is a tremendous loss."

Malloy added, "There is such goodness in the world and that makes it difficult to understand when things go bad."

Many worshippers spoke during the service, some tearfully, some not. But all were clearly looking for answers in the wake of the tragedy. Michael Klein, a 23-year-old who grew up in Newtown and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, said he's shocked by what happened in his hometown.

"A lot of my friends say that because this is such a great town it should be famous. Now, it's famous for the wrong reason."

Around town, people continued processing their grief. "It's just unbelievable... My neighbor's granddaughter was shot," Janet Woycik said before falling into tears.

Woycik, the director of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library on Main Street, said there's been nothing normal over the past 24 hours as she received visits from family members of victims to an EMT who responded to the incident rushing to return books to avoid late fees.

"People have been coming in tears. Yeah, I mean one of our programming people, who does programming for children here at the library, her son was shot," Woycik said.

As the community grapples with how to begin to understand and grieve, the library is also trying to become a place where children can find some peace and a chance to be themselves for a bit in an otherwise upside down world. They're planning on making the children's library an oasis to insulate them from the harsh realities of the outside world.

"We're thinking that parents can bring their children here, just as a diversion and to get them out of the house," Woycik said.

Children's Librarian Alana Bennison said she didn't want to publicize the details of what the library will set up for children this week.

"We need a place where children can come, and not be bothered by reporters and people seeking information," she said. "Just a neutral place they can come where they can feel normal in an abnormal situation," she said.