NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — This Christmas was unlike any other in Newtown.
When a gunman wiped out nearly an entire first-grade class and killed students and adults in two other first-grade classrooms just 11 days before Christmas, it made it impossible for the holiday to be the same this year.
Some residents, like Joanne Brunetti, have found ways to console and help their grieving neighbors. Well-wishers from around the country are stopping by to do the same.
Brunetti watched over 26 candles that had been lit at midnight, just before Christmas Day, in honor of those slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She and her husband, Bill, signed up for a three-hour shift and erected a tent to ensure that the candle flames never went out throughout the day.
“You have to do something and you don’t know what to do, you know? You really feel very helpless in this situation,” she said Tuesday. “People have been wonderful to everybody in Newtown whether you were part of what happened or not. My thought is if we were all this nice to each other all the time maybe things like this wouldn’t happen.”
At a town hall memorial, Faith Leonard waved to people driving by and handed out Christmas cookies, children’s gifts and hugs to anyone who needed it.
“I guess my thought was if I could be here helping out maybe one person would be able to spend more time with their family or grieve in the way they needed to,” said Leonard, who drove to Newtown from Gilbert, Ariz., to volunteer on Christmas morning. “I know they’ve been inundated with support and that’s great, but it’s always nice to have a present to open on Christmas Day.”
Julian Revie played “Silent Night” on a piano on the sidewalk at the downtown memorial. Revie, from Ottawa, Canada, was in the area visiting at the time of the shootings. He canceled his plans to go to Australia, found a piano online and chose to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day playing for the people of Newtown.
“It was such a mood of respectful silence,” said Revie, who planned to leave the piano behind. “But yesterday being Christmas Eve and today being Christmas Day, I thought now it’s time for some Christmas carols for the children.”
Many town residents attended Christmas Eve services Monday evening and spent the morning at home with their families. Others attended church services in search of a new beginning.
At St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, attended by eight of the child victims of the massacre, the pastor told parishioners that “today is the day we begin everything all over again.”
Recalling the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, the Rev. Robert Weiss said: “The moment the first responder broke through the doors we knew good always overcomes evil.”
“We know Christmas in a way we never ever thought we would know it,” he said. “We need a little Christmas and we’ve been given it.”
Volunteers hung ornaments on a series of memorial Christmas trees Tuesday morning while police officers from around the state took extra shifts to direct traffic, patrol the town and give police here a break.
“It’s a nice thing that they can use us this way,” Ted Latiak, a police detective from Greenwich, Conn., said Christmas morning, as he and a fellow detective, each working a half-day shift, came out of a store with bagels and coffee for other officers.
The expansive memorials throughout town have become gathering points for residents and visitors alike. A steady stream of residents, some in pajamas, relit candles that had been extinguished in an overnight snowstorm.
Others took pictures, dropped off toys and fought back tears at a huge sidewalk memorial in the center of Newtown’s Sandy Hook section that is filled with stuffed animals, poems, flowers, posters and cards. Snow covered a pile of teddy bears displayed in town.
Newtown officials plan to convert the countless mementos paying tribute to the 20 children and six adults into a memorial. Thousands of flowers, letters, signs, photos, candles, teddy bears and other items at sites around town will be turned into soil and blocks to be used in a memorial, The News Times in Danbury reports.
The mementos will stay up until after the New Year as residents and visitors pay their respects.
Police have yet to offer a possible motive for gunman Adam Lanza’s rampage. The 20-year-old Newtown man, who lived at home, killed his mother in her bed before heading to the school and killing 20 children — all either 6 or 7 years— and six adults. He then killed himself.