NEWTOWN, Conn. – A season that should be a time of joy has been marked by heart-wrenching loss in Newtown, as more victims from the massacre of 20 children and six adults are laid to rest.
At least nine funerals and wakes were held Wednesday for those who died when gunman Adam Lanza, armed with a military-style assault rifle, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday and opened fire. Lanza killed his mother at her home before the attack and committed suicide at the school as police closed in.
On Thursday, five funerals and six wakes were planned, and more tributes were scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
“The first few days, all you heard were helicopters,” said Dr. Joseph Young, an optometrist who attended one funeral and would go to several more. “Now at my office all I hear is the rumble of motorcycle escorts and funeral processions going back and forth throughout the day.”
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Wednesday, mourners arrived for Caroline Previdi, an auburn-haired 6-year-old with an impish smile, before the service had even ended for Daniel Barden, a 7-year-old who dreamed of being a firefighter.
“It’s sad to see the little coffins,” said the Rev. John Inserra, a Catholic priest who worked at St. Rose for years before transferring to a church in Greenwich.
“It’s always hard to bury a child,” Inserra said of the seemingly unrelenting cycle of sorrow and loss. “God didn’t do this. God didn’t allow this. We allowed it. He said, ‘Send the little children to me.’ But he didn’t mean it this way.”
Hundreds of firefighters formed a long blue line outside the church for Daniel’s funeral. Two of his relatives work at the Fire Department of New York, and the gap-toothed redhead had wanted to join their ranks one day.
At Caroline’s funeral, mourners wore pink ties and scarves — her favouritecolour — and remembered her as a New York Yankees fan who liked to kid around. “Silly Caroline” was how she was known to neighbour Karen Dryer.
“She’s just a girl that was always smiling, always wanting others to smile,” Dryer said.
Across town, at Christ the King Lutheran Church, hundreds gathered for the funeral of Charlotte Helen Bacon, many wearing buttons picturing the 6-year-old redhead. Speakers, including her grandfather, told of her love of wild animals, the family’s golden retriever and the colour pink.
She was “a beautiful little girl who could be a bit stubborn at times, just like all children,” said Danbury resident Linda Clark as she left the service.
And in nearby Stratford, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher hailed as a hero for trying to shield her students, some of whom escaped. Musician Paul Simon, a family friend, performed “The Sound of Silence” at the service.
“She had the perfect job. She loved her job,” said Vicky Ruiz, a friend since first grade.
In Woodbury, a line of colleagues, students and friends of slain Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, wrapped around the block to pay their respects to the administrator, who rushed the gunman in an effort to stop him and paid with her life. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the service.
“She loved kids. She’d do anything to help them and protect them,” said Joann Opulski, of Roxbury.
The symbol of Christmas took on a new meaning in Newtown, where one memorial featured 26 Christmas trees — one for each victim at the school.
Edward Kish said he bought a Christmas tree two days before the shooting but hasn’t had the heart to put it up or decorate it.
“I’ll still put it up, probably,” he said. “It doesn’t seem right, and it doesn’t seem like Christmas.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed, Helen O’Neill, John Christoffersen, Katie Zezima and Pat Eaton-Robb in Newtown; Michael Melia in Hartford; and Larry Margasak in Washington and AP Business Writer Joshua Freed in Minneapolis.