NEWTOWN, Conn. — Newtown returned its students to their classrooms Tuesday for the first time since last week's massacre and faced the agonizing task of laying others to rest, as this grieving town wrestled with the same issues gripping the country: violence, gun control and finding a way forward.
Funerals were held for two more of the tiny fallen, a 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl, the latest in a long, almost unbearable procession of grief. A total of 26 people were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history. The gunman also killed his mother in her home, before committing suicide.
The resumption of classes at all Newtown's schools except Sandy Hook brought a return of familiar routines, something students seemed to welcome as they arrived aboard buses festooned with large green-and-white ribbons – the colors of the stricken elementary school.
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, said 17-year-old P.J. Hickey, a senior at Newtown High School. Nobody can do this alone.
Still, he noted: There's going to be no joy in school. It really doesn't feel like Christmas anymore.
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, back-to-back funerals were held for first-graders James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, the first of eight to be held in the coming days at the church.
As mourners gathered outside, a motorcade led by police motorcycles arrived for the funeral of little James, who especially loved recess and math, and who was described by his family as a numbers guy who couldn't wait until he was old enough to order a foot-long Subway sandwich.
Traffic in front of the church slowed to a crawl as police directed vehicles into the church parking lot. At one point, a school bus carrying elementary students got stuck in traffic, and the children, pressing their faces into the windows, sadly watched as the mourners assembled.
Inside the church, James' mother stood and remembered her son.
It was very somber, it was very sad, it was very moving, said Clare Savarese, who taught the boy in preschool and recalled him as a lovely little boy. A sweet little angel.
The service had not yet concluded when mourners began arriving for the funeral of Jessica, who loved horses and was counting the years until she turned 10, when her family had promised her a horse of her own. For Christmas, she had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.
We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are, her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement.
Tensions in the shattered community ran high as the grief of parents and townspeople collided with the crush of media reporting on the shootings and the funerals.
Police walked children to parents waiting in cars to protect them from the cameras. Many parents yelled at reporters to leave their children and the town alone. Go away! a man in a tow truck painted with an American flag screamed at media across from Hawley Elementary School.
Students said they didn't get much work done Tuesday and spent much of the day talking about the terrible events of last Friday, when 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, clad all in black, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary and opened fire on students and staff.
As for concerns about safety, some students were defiant.
This is where I feel the most at home, said Hickey. I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world.
Still, some parents were apprehensive.
Priscilla and Randy Bock, arriving with their 15-year-old special needs son, James, expressed misgivings. I was not sure we wanted him going, Priscilla Bock said. I'm a mom. I'm anxious.
Authorities say the horrific events of Friday began when Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, at their home, then took her car and some of her guns to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary, where he broke in and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the attack.
In another development, a Utah sixth-grader caught with a gun at school Monday told administrators he brought the weapon to defend himself in case of an attack similar to the Connecticut mass school shooting, school officials said Tuesday.
The 11-year-old was being held in juvenile detention on suspicion of possessing a dangerous weapon and aggravated assault after other students at the suburban Salt Lake City elementary school told police he threatened them with the handgun.