Threat darkens reopening of schools in Newtown

USA TODAY, December 19, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Sadness met sirens Tuesday as hundreds of students for the first time since last week’s shooting returned to schools patrolled by police cars and families held memorial services for four victims.

Throughout the day, schoolbuses, students and hearses with dozens of police cruisers and motorcycle escorts made their way through the small town’s crowded streets. Residents, faced with a day of mourning and an attempt to return to some sort of normalcy, expressed sorrow, anger, and an interest in seeing change.

“I don’t think we’re going to have much class today,” said Newtown High School sophomore Tate Schwab, 15 . “I know a lot of people who are nervous to be back in school. A lot of people don’t want to be here. They feel like it’s wrong.”

On Friday, 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, police said.

Sandy Hook Elementary will remain closed indefinitely, and its students will resume classes at a school in nearby Monroe on January 2. Students at Head O’Meadow Elementary School were told to stay home Tuesday because of an undisclosed threat, though no details were released. Other Newtown students, like Schwab, started school with a two hour delay.

Schwab, who didn’t know anyone affected by the shooting, was happy to get back to his routine of walking to school. He looked forward to seeing friends and wasn’t concerned for his safety.

His mother, however, did cross his mind as he made his way through the morning fog. She has spent days crying about the incident — Schwab’s 3-year-old sister would have started at Sandy Hook Elementary next year, he said.

Schwab is still trying to process the reality of the tragedy. “It feels surreal — like it didn’t happen here,” he said.

At Newtown High School, several police cars circled the building as an officer at the school’s entrance directed traffic. A steady stream of cars and school buses began arriving at 8:30 a.m. for classes that began almost an hour later.

Just after dawn, police cars were already parked outside several schools with signs that read “No media beyond this point.”

The extra security made Mike Stierle, 16, a Newtown High School sophomore, feel safer than ever, he said. “My neighbor up the street, her kid didn’t come back,” he said. “The initial grief was definitely the hardest part.”

He added that his school’s counselors will be important in helping students, most of whom will know someone affected, get through the day.

For senior Caroline Kingsley, 17, coming back was unnerving. She spent the past few days consoling her best friend who was directly affected by the shooting. “I’m really scared to come back,” Kingsley said. “I don’t know what to expect. But being the town we are, I know we’ll be able to get through it.”

At services in Newtown and surrounding areas, mourners lined up to pay respects to victims in the rain. Flashing lights and sirens from police cars and motorcycles continued for hours outside St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church during the midday funeral of student Jessica Rekos, 6. The families of students Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, and teacher Victoria Soto, 27, held calling hours.

In a corner of Christ the King Lutheran Church during Charlotte’s calling hours, poster boards displayed photos of the young girl in a bathing suit at the beach, in a pink ballerina outfit, and in sunglasses and a green life jacket. At a table at the entrance, mourners signed visiting books and took small memorial cards stacked on a nearby table. The card read in part, , “Sorrow is great at the loss of a child. At the parting with one we love. But the parting was made that our child might go. To brighten the heavens door.”

Across town, Newtown residents added anger to the mix of grief.

Outside Head O’Meadow Elementary School, Linda Mitchell, 64, found it terrifying that someone may have called in a threat to the school. Her 5-year-old granddaughter attends kindergarten there.

“I’m so sorry that people have to copy cat or do whatever it is they feel they have to do to keep this in some horrible context,” she said. “It makes it difficult for people to try to move on.”

The talk turned to politics at one school as parents dropped off their children.

Peter Muckell, 52, dropped off his 8-year-old daughter Shannon for third-grade classes at Hawley School. “I hope this is a tipping point,” he said. “I can’t imagine why anyone would want these assault rifles. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Muckell is a bow hunter who owns a party rental shop. After the shooting, he said he began hoping that lawmakers would move past problems like the fiscal cliff and have talks about gun reform.

He hopes change will make places like Newtown safer and give comfort to parents like him who has no choice but to send his little girl to school.

While Shannon Muckell didn’t seem scared after spending the weekend on playdates with friends, Peter Muckell said it was harder to drop her off this morning.

“I told her ‘I love you,’ and kissed her,” Muckell said. “I told her teacher to take care of these guys.”