Christmas has helped some people in the grieving Connecticut town of Newtown cope a little better with the shooting tragedy that killed 20 schoolchildren, while others have yet to feel the holiday joy.
Smiles returned for those taking a respite from the mourning now that funerals for the victims have concluded. For the bereaved, however, the holiday spirit was absent in a town that just buried its children.
“We’re getting through this with our faith and our prayer. People are smiling a little more now,” said John Barry, owner of an information technology staffing company. “The week was so horrible. Now it’s time to celebrate Christmas.”
This largely Christian town was shaken on the morning of Dec 14 when a 20-year-old gunman armed with a military-style assault rifle shot dead 20 children, aged from six to seven, and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the second-deadliest school shooting in US history.
Little is known about the shooter, Adam Lanza, who also killed his mother before the rampage and later himself to leave a death toll of 28 in a tragedy that has revitalised the debate over US gun control laws.
The sadness laying heavily over Newtown has prompted some to act. Makeshift monuments to the dead have popped up all over town, funds have been raised, and many visitors have made a pilgrimage to Newtown to offer support.
“It doesn’t feel like Christmas. It’s too sad to feel like Christmas,” said Joanne Brunetti of Newtown, who was staffing a 24-hour candlelight vigil in the centre of town early on Christmas morning. “I got my shopping done a lot later than usual. I just felt like my heart wasn’t in it.”
At another monument across town, Tim O’Leary of nearby Danbury, Connecticut, said reading the memorials to the victims only helped “a little.”
“It [Christmas] shouldn’t even be happening,” said O’Leary. “Life has changed as we know it.”
The mood was more uplifting at Christmas Eve Mass on Monday night at St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which held its biggest service at the high school auditorium.
Parishioners Dan and Michelle McAloon of Newtown decided to go Christmas caroling this year for the first time, gathering other families and children to roam a neighbourhood where the families of three victims live.
“We were just spreading some cheer, trying to make the situation a little better,” Michelle McAloon said.
“They all smiled, and they all cried a little,” she said of the victims’ families.
Nine families from the parish lost someone in the shooting, and at least four of those families came to the big Christmas Eve Mass, Monsignor Robert Weiss said.
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