Newtown's Tough Year After School Massacre

It's been a painful year as the town attempts to move beyond one of the nation's deadliest shootings.


NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — A year later, inside the big house on Berkshire Road, dolls fill the shelves of a living room and flowers and rainbows decorate a kitchen window, next to a little girl's name: Avielle.

Outside, all around town, Christmas lights shimmer again. But so, too, do the 26 bronze stars that sit atop the local firehouse, one for each adult and child gunned down at a school one unimaginable day.

In so many ways, this is a place frozen in time. Ribbons of green — the Sandy Hook Elementary School color — stay tied to mailboxes and storefronts, just as a curly-haired girl smiles from a framed photograph that remains atop a mantel inside Jeremy Richman's century-old home.

People might assume the hurt that accompanies tragedy fades with time. But, says Richman, who last Dec. 14 lost his only child, "I miss Avielle more every day."

It's been a painful and frenetic year, for the Richmans and for all of Newtown. From horror came despair and, soon, attempts at moving beyond one of the nation's deadliest shootings. There were the logistics of recovery to tend to and decisions about whether to raze the school where so many perished.

The Labor Day parade marched on, and as foliage turned red and yellow, small survivors filed back into school with their parents' shaky assurances they would be safe.

Now, with winter on their doorstep once again, the people of Newtown are bracing for the day everyone here simply calls 12/14.

"For us, it's not an event. It's something we live with every single day of our lives," says Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra, who called together a panel of community leaders, mental health experts, clergy members and residents to consider what to do about the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. To avoid drawing more media attention, they decided not to hold any formal remembrances. Llodra and the victims' families have urged people to mark the date with acts of service and kindness.

"We can't change what happened to us," Llodra says, "but we have a choice in how we respond."

And so they will do what they've done for a year: balance trying to remember with wanting to forget, and help one another cope with seasons' worth of grief few outsiders can fathom.

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On a frigid December night, only hours after Adam Lanza carried out his rampage, Llodra stood before a church overflowing with stunned townspeople. As some outside sang "Silent Night," she took the podium to address those gathered inside for a candlelight vigil.

"It will be in my head forever to look out at their faces and see how much they were wounded," she says.

From that day, through Christmas and the long winter, the families and the town endured immense grief, beginning with an unrelenting procession of funerals, as they grappled with the toll of the tragedy — 20 first-grade children and six educators gunned down in minutes by a troubled and socially isolated young man with a semi-automatic rifle.

Among the clergy members who counseled families that night in the Sandy Hook firehouse was Monsignor Robert Weiss, pastor of the St. Rose of Lima church, who tears up as he remembers the brother of a young victim asking whom he would play with since his sister had been killed.

Father Bob, as he is known in town, presided over the funerals for eight of the children. But his lowest moment came two days after the shooting, when he had to ask worshippers to leave halfway through a Mass because of a call from someone threatening to finish the job Lanza started.

"That's the moment that changed me," he says. "I mean, what is safe for us anymore?"

Llodra, a 71-year-old former high school teacher and grandmother, had been Newtown's top elected official for three years. She felt despondent herself, but she told the crowd at the vigil to put one foot in front of the other, and she steeled herself not to give in to emotion. She drew on lessons from the loss of her own child, a 44-year-old daughter who had died three years earlier, and the advice of officials from Littleton and Aurora, Colo., and Blacksburg, Va., who called to talk over how they had dealt with their own mass shootings.

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