A town where nothing much happens struggled to process what exactly had happened at one of its grade schools Friday morning, how it could happen and why it could happen.
“You hear about it happening over there — another state, another country. Not here,” said Teri Brunelli, a shop owner. “I was explaining to my kids, we’re really not safe, no matter where we are. If you aren’t safe here, in this town, where are we safe?”
The portrait of a ravaged, stricken community might seem familiar by now: affluent and well-
educated; the schools are stellar, the neighborhoods safe, and everyone knows everyone. Newtown is no different, and when a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning and fatally shot 12 girls, eight boys and six women, the randomness of such violence seemed to be underscored.
“It’s like a dream feeling. You can’t really believe it’s happening,” said Rabbi Shaul Praver of the Adath Israel congregation. “Yet it happened.”
As they do every weekend, Jason and Lauren Patrick loaded their 18-month-old daughter into a stroller early Saturday and climbed up the hill to the general store. The emotions from the previous day were still fresh, the horrors still vivid. Lauren works at a preschool, which like all of the public schools in the area was on lockdown Friday. That meant parents were outside in the parking lot for three hours, unable to pick up their children.
“When they finally came in,” Lauren said, “they were shaking, didn’t say a word, just went right to their kids. The desperation on their faces, it’s unforgettable.”
A full day later, the terror had hardly subsided. Nine-year-old Derek Rousseau attends a nearby elementary school. He confided to his parents Friday night, “I’m stressed.”
“He has a lot of questions, as you can imagine,” said his mother, Jennifer Rousseau, acknowledging the paucity of answers.
Keith and Jennifer Rousseau took their son to church Saturday morning to pray.
With a population of just over 27,000, Newtown has four elementary schools, one intermediate school and one high school. Friday’s lockdown stirred feelings in students and educators that persist.
Jennifer Godvout, a caregiver, said her 11-year-old son had spent Friday morning hiding behind a sink in his classroom. That night, she took him to church, where he asked to speak with the priest. After a family breakfast Saturday morning, they returned to church and then had plans to take advantage of free grief counseling offered at a school.