Funerals, sadness, and haunting memories for Newtown

USA TODAY, December 20, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The magnitude of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre continued to bear down on this small town Wednesday as eight families held services for victims.

Across Newtown and surrounding areas, makeshift memorials grew and police lights, dark hearses, and long funeral processions — now a familiar sight —passed through town for a third straight day. Police also continued to dig into what led to the tragedy.

Near Sandy Hook Elementary, Gene Rosen, 69, recalled the victims and the time he spent with six children who he believes witnessed the murder of their teacher, Victoria Soto.

“Two boys started crying furiously and saying ‘We can’t go back to school, we can’t go back to school — our teacher is gone,’ ” said Rosen who brought the children inside his home after finding them on his front lawn shortly Friday morning. “I was so overwhelmed I could not take in what they were saying.”

Adam Lanza, 20, carried out a shooting attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 students and six adults dead. He also killed his mother earlier in the day.

Wednesday, mourners attended funerals and burials for Soto, 27, and students Charlotte Bacon, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, and Daniel Barden, 7. The families of students Benjamin Wheeler, Catherine Hubbard, Allison Wyatt, all 6, and school principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, also held calling hours.

Musician Paul Simon sang Sounds of Silence at Soto’s funeral. A spokesperson for Simon said Sotos and Simon met through Vicki’s mother and Paul’s sister-in-law, both nurses.

The horror of the day remains with Rosen, who said he had just fed his cats and was getting ready to drive to Sandy Hook diner when he spotted two boys and four girls as he walked down his driveway.

“They looked mortified,” Rosen said. “They seemed out of breath as if they had been running and they were crying.”

After walking them inside his home, he gave the tiny survivors his grandchildren’s toys to play. Soon, the details of what they witnessed came pouring out.

“A boy said, ‘He had a big gun and a little gun,'” Rosen recalled. “A girl said ‘There was blood in her mouth and she fell to the ground.'”

Working with a bus driver, Rosen called the children’s parents who later came to his home. He’s hoping when the time is right he will be reunited with the children and their parents who still face days of funerals.

Fourteen miles away from the school, in Woodbury, hundreds of mourners including Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, paid their respects to Principal Hochsprung, who officials say tried to confront Lanza.

Outside Munson-Lovetere Funeral Home, cool air kicked up dust as frigid weather kept those waiting in line shivering. Some cried as they huddled together in jackets and under shared quilts. Others sipped hot chocolate and ate donuts passed out under a nearby tent.

Many passed the time talking about Hochsprung’s love of children, her years of experience in Connecticut school systems, and her and her husband’s plans to retire in a home they recently built.

Up and down Woodbury’s Main Street, crowds of people formed lines in anticipation of a threat by Westboro Baptist Church to protest at the principal’s funeral.

Crystal Bogart, 34, drove one hour from her home in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. to help protect the services. “When I found out they were coming I couldn’t stay at home,” she said. “There’s no room in this situation for the hate those people bring.”

Westboro Baptist Church has become notorious for picketing the funerals of military personnel, calling their deaths God’s punishment for U.S. tolerance of homosexuals. There were no of protests at funerals Wednesday.

Meanwhile, police continued their investigation into what caused Lanza to carry out the killings. Officials are focusing some of their attention on a damaged computer recovered from his Newtown home.

However, it could take weeks to determine if the computer will yield any clues to what prompted the attack, a federal law enforcement official said.

The hard-drive, seized in a weekend search of the home, has been sent to an FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., for examination. The official, who has been briefed on matter but is not authorized to comment publicly, said authorities were only “mildly optimistic” that the examination could answer could answer crucial questions about the 20-year-old activities in the days before the assaults and why he targeted the school, students and staffers.

Two federal law enforcement officials said that there was an initial surge of hope that the computer could answer a number of questions about the attack, but that was almost immediately tempered when the extent of the damage was assessed.

Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance, while not addressing what specific evidence was found, has said a “great deal” of material was seized from the home, adding that he was “confident” that investigators would ultimately answer “every question.”

Tomorrow, memorial services for nine victims are scheduled.

“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.”