NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AP) — They relocated all of the surviving students to a new school unstained by blood. They brought in counselors to soothe shattered nerves.
But three months later, authorities know they cannot erase the lingering effects of the shooting at a Connecticut school that left six adults and 20 children, ages 6 and 7, dead.
In their new school building, signs ask people to close doors softly and not to drag objects across the floor. Police remain a presence.
"There are reactions to noises, doors slamming, things being dropped have a strong startled response," said Newtown School Superintendent Janet Robinson. "We're really just trying to have the whole school be as calm as possible."
At home, Robinson said, parents say children have cried and asked, "Is the bad man coming back?"
On the morning of Dec. 14, a 20-year-old gunman smashed glass to enter the school and killed the adults and students before killing himself. Gunshots resounded through the school over the public address system. Teachers hid with students in classrooms until they were rescued by police, and some passed the bodies on their way out, though they were told to close their eyes.
When the students returned to school on Jan. 3, it was in a different building. The students' original desks and other equipment had been installed.
But there was no way to pretend that the shootings did not happen.
A group of students attending a meeting on a recent day heard a loud noise and looked around nervously. One girl began to cry.
"You can tell that every little sound that is made in that school, the kids are still extremely scared," said Brenda Lebinski, a parent who witnessed the episode.
Parents have been volunteering as aides to help comfort the students. Teachers, still coping with their own trauma, also struggle to make the children feel safe.
"I think they're exhausted, mentally, physically," said Wendy Davenson, a therapist working with school staff. "It takes ages to create a safe environment after something like this. I think the teachers are trying so hard to do that for the students, and yet some of them may not really feel particularly safe either."
Survivors of such shootings can experience nightmares, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance in which they are constantly on the lookout for danger and startled responses, said Russell Jones, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech who counseled survivors of the 2007 mass shooting at his school. Between 8 to 15 percent of those who experience traumas such as mass shootings develop PTSD, but about half no longer have the symptoms after three months, he said.
Sounds and smells associated with mass shootings can bring back memories of the horror, said Carolyn Mears, author of the book "Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma."
Mears, whose son survived the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999, said the school for years had a sign on its entrance declaring the building a balloon-free school because the popping of balloons sounded like the echo of gunfire. The school also changed the sound of its fire alarm so that students and staff would not be reminded of the sound from the shooting, she said.
"The one message I would give to the parents, the teachers, the community itself: It is possible to live through this kind of uncertainty and grief and loss and shattering experience and make a future that holds happiness and joy," Mears said, noting that it will take time.
Lebinski said she's heard from other parents that some children have outbursts they never had before. When she hears gunshots on TV, Lebinski's daughter tells her mother to turn it off immediately. Lebinski is coping by keeping her daughter busy with sports and other activities.
Another parent of a survivor, Stephen Delgiudice, said his 8-year-old daughter doesn't talk about the shooting and appears to be doing well.