Amid snow-covered teddy bears, stockings, flowers and candles, the small town of Newtown, Conn. continues to honor the 20 children and six educators who tragically passed just 11 days before Christmas.
The outpouring of support for this community continued through Christmas Eve, with visitors arriving at town hall with offerings of cards, handmade snowflakes and sympathy.
“We know that they’ll feel loved,” said Treyvon Smalls, a 15-year-old from a few towns away who arrived bearing hundreds of cards and paper snowflakes collected from around the state. “They’ll feel that somebody actually cares.”
And on Christmas Day, out-of-town police officers were on duty to give police here a break.
“It’s a nice thing that they can use us this way,” said Ted Latiak, a police detective from Greenwich, Conn. as he and a fellow detective, each working a half-day shift, came out of a store with bagels and coffee for other officers.
At the Trinity Episcopal Church, less than 2 miles from the school, an overflow crowd of several hundred people attended Christmas Eve services. They were greeted by the sounds of a children’s choir echoing throughout a sanctuary hall that had its walls decorated with green wreaths adorned with red bows.
The church program said flowers were donated in honor of Sandy Hook shooting victims, identified by name or as the “school angels” and “Sandy Hook families.”
The service, which generally took on a celebratory tone, made only a few vague references to the shooting. Pastor Kathie Adams-Shepherd led the congregation in praying “that the joy and consolation of the wonderful counselor might enliven all who are touched by illness, danger, or grief, especially all those families affected by the shootings in Sandy Hook.”
While the grief is still fresh, some residents are urging activism. A group called Newtown United has been meeting at the library to talk about issues ranging from gun control, to increasing mental health services to the types of memorials that could be erected for the victims. Some clergy members have said they also intend to push for change.
“We seek not to be the town of tragedy,” said Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel. “But, we seek to be the town where all the great changes started.”
Similar messages have also arrived from around the world. People have donated toys, books, money and more. A United Way fund, one of many, has collected $3 million. People have given nearly $500,000 to a memorial scholarship fund at the University of Connecticut.
In the center of New Town’s Sandy Hook section Monday, a steady stream of residents and out-of-towners snapped photos, lit candles and dropped off children’s gifts at an expansive memorial filled with stuffed animals, poems, flowers, posters and cards.
“All the families who lost those little kids, Christmas will never be the same,” said Philippe Poncet, a New Town resident originally from France. “Everybody across the world is trying to share the tragedy with our community here.”
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.