NEWTOWN, Conn. -- With security stepped up and families still on edge in Newtown, students began returning to school Tuesday for the first time since last week’s massacre, bringing a return of familiar routines—at least, for some—to a grief-stricken town as it buries 20 of its children.
One 6-year-old boy’s funeral began Tuesday morning, and two other 6-year-old boys were laid to rest Monday in the first of a long, almost unbearable procession of funerals. A total of 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history.
Classes resume Tuesday for Newtown schools except those at Sandy Hook. Buses ferrying students to schools were festooned with large green and white ribbons on the front grills, the colors of Sandy Hook. At Newtown High School, students in sweatshirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, betrayed mixed emotions. Some waved at or snapped photos of the assembled media horde, and others appeared visibly shaken.
“There’s going to be no joy in school,” said 17-year-old senior P.J. Hickey. “It really doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore.”
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, a hearse arrived Tuesday morning carrying the casket of first-grader James Mattioli for the first of eight funerals of victims to be held in the coming days at the church. Mourners gathered outside, and the family followed the casket in a motorcade led by police motorcycles.
At the high school, students didn’t expect to get much work done Tuesday but rather anticipated most of the day would be spent talking about the shooting.
“We’re going to be able to comfort each other and try and help each other get through this because that’s the only way we’re going to do it. Nobody can do this alone,” Hickey said.
Sophomore Tate Schwab echoed that.
“It’s definitely better than just sitting at home watching the news,” he said.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “It feels to me like it hasn’t happened. It’s really weird.”
As for concerns about safety, Hickey was defiant.
“This is where I feel the most at home. I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world.”
Some parents were likely to keep their children at home anyway. Local police and school officials have been discussing how and where to increase security, and state police said they would be on alert for threats and hoaxes.
On Monday, Newtown held the first two funerals of many the picturesque New England community of 27,000 people will face over the next few days, just as other towns are getting ready for the holidays. At least one funeral is planned for a student - 6-year-old Jessica Rekos - as well as several wakes, including one for teacher Victoria Soto, who has been hailed as a hero for sacrificing herself to save several students.
Two funeral homes filled Monday with mourners for Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6 years old. A rabbi presided at Noah’s service, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket with a Star of David on it.
“I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room,” Noah’s mother, Veronique Pozner, said at the service, according to remarks the family provided to The Associated Press. Both services were closed to the news media.
“Most of all, I will miss your visions of your future,” she said. “You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos.”
She closed by saying: “Momma loves you, little man.”
Noah’s twin, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the killing frenzy.
At Jack Pinto’s Christian service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home, where the boy lay in an open casket. Jack was among the youngest members of a youth wrestling association in Newtown, and dozens of little boys turned up at the service in gray Newtown Wrestling T-shirts.
Jack was a fan of New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and was laid to rest in a Cruz jersey.
Authorities say the man who killed the two boys and their classmates, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot his mother, Nancy, at their home and then took her car and some of her guns to the school, where he broke in and opened fire. A Connecticut official said the mother, a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges, was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
Lanza was wearing all black, with an olive-drab utility vest with lots of pockets, during the attack.
As investigators worked to figure out what drove him to lash out with such fury - and why he singled out the school - federal agents said that he had fired guns at shooting ranges over the past several years but that there was no evidence he did so recently as practice for the rampage.
Debora Seifert, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said both Lanza and his mother fired at shooting ranges, and also visited ranges together.
“We do not have any indication at this time that the shooter engaged in shooting activities in the past six months,” Seifert said.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the attack.
Whatever his motives, normalcy will be slow in revisiting Newtown. Classes were canceled district-wide Monday.
Dan Capodicci, whose 10-year-old daughter attends the school at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, said he thinks it’s time for her to get back to classes.
“It’s the right thing to do. You have to send your kids back. But at the same time I’m worried,” he said. “We need to get back to normal.”
The district has made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to Chalk Hill, a former middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Sandy Hook desks that will fit the small students are being taken there, empty since town schools consolidated last year, and tradesmen are donating their services to get the school ready within a matter of days.
With Sandy Hook Elementary still designated a crime scene, state police Lt. Paul Vance said it could be months before police turn the school back over to the district.
Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, a civilian version of the military’s M-16. It is similar to the weapon used in a recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon and other deadly attacks around the U.S. Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in this country under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the law expired in 2004.
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced Tuesday it plans to sell its stake in Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster rifle, following the school shootings.
Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday that it was deeply saddened by Friday’s events, and that it will hire a financial adviser to help with the process of selling its Freedom Group interests.
The outlines of a national debate on gun control have begun to take shape. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution.”
Carney did not offer specific proposals or a timeline. He said President Barack Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by shooting survivors and relatives of victims of gunfire around the country, pressed Obama and Congress to toughen gun laws and tighten enforcement after the Newtown massacre.
“If this doesn’t do it,” he asked, “what is going to?”
At least one senator, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, said Monday that the attack in Newtown has led him to rethink his opposition to the ban on assault weapons.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is an avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said it’s time to move beyond the political rhetoric and begin an honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns.
“This is bigger than just about guns,” he added. “It’s about how we treat people with mental illness, how we intervene, how we get them the care they need, how we protect our schools. It’s just so sad.”