NEWTOWN, Conn. — Newtown celebrated Christmas amid piles of snow-covered teddy bears and heaps of flowers as volunteers manned a 24-hour candlelight vigil in memory of the 20 children and six adults shot to death in the second-largest school shooting in U.S. history.
Well-wishers from around the country showed up Tuesday morning to hang ornaments on memorial Christmas trees, while police officers from around Connecticut took extra shifts to give local police a day off.
“It’s a nice thing that they can use us this way,” Ted Latiak, a police detective from Greenwich, Connecticut, said as he and a fellow detective came out of a store with bagels and coffee for other officers.
A steady stream of residents, some in pyjamas, relit candles that had been extinguished in an overnight snowstorm. Others dropped off toys and fought back tears at a huge sidewalk memorial filled with stuffed animals, poems, flowers, posters and cards.
In the morning, resident Joanne Brunetti watched over 26 candles that had been lit at midnight in honour of those slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She and her husband, Bill, signed up for a three-hour shift and erected a tent to ensure that the flames never went out throughout the day.
“You have to do something and you don’t know what to do, you know? You really feel very helpless in this situation,” she said. “My thought is if we were all this nice to each other all the time maybe things like this wouldn’t happen.”
Julian Revie played “Silent Night” on a piano on the sidewalk at the downtown memorial. Revie, from Ottawa, Canada, was visiting the area at the time of the shootings. He found a piano online and chose to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day playing for the people of Newtown.
“It was such a mood of respectful silence,” said Revie. “But yesterday being Christmas Eve and today being Christmas Day, I thought now it’s time for some Christmas carols for the children.”
At a town hall memorial, Faith Leonard waved to people driving by and handed out Christmas cookies and children’s gifts. She had driven from Arizona, at almost the other end of the country, to volunteer on Christmas morning alone.
“I guess my thought was if I could be here helping out, maybe one person would be able to spend more time with their family or grieve in the way they needed to,” Leonard said.
Many residents attended Christmas Eve services and spent Tuesday morning at home with their families. Others attended church services in search of a new beginning.
At St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which eight of the child victims of the massacre attended, the pastor told parishioners that “today is the day we begin everything all over again.”
Recalling the events of Dec. 14, the Rev. Robert Weiss said: “The moment the first responder broke through the doors, we knew good always overcomes evil.”
“We know Christmas in a way we never ever thought we would know it,” Weiss said. “We need a little Christmas and we’ve been given it.”
Police have yet to offer a theory about a possible motive for gunman Adam Lanza’s rampage. The 20-year-old resident killed his mother in her bed before carrying out the massacre and killing himself.