Newtown community grieving together after loss of 26 people in Sandy Hook school shooting

NEWTOWN, Conn. - The people who live in Newtown, Connecticut, describe it as an ideal New England town. Families move there for the community, schools and people.

Now, all of those groups are coming together to deal with the horrible reality of a school shooting that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 children.

Around town, holiday decorations are up, but the mood is not one of celebration. Interspersed with the garlands and lights of the season, homeowners and business owners are now displaying messages of grief.

"God bless Sandy Hook," said one sign scrawled on a bed sheet.

"Our hearts are broken, our spirits are strong," said a message written in pink chalk outside a business in the heart of town.

"I feel myself just wandering around and not knowing what to do with myself," said resident Tamara Doherty, proprietor of a business along Newtown's Main Street.

Doherty said she and her husband are confining themselves to their store as they try to cope. They learned Saturday that a friend's daughter is among the children who were gunned down inside Sandy Hook School.

"I just broke down crying," Doherty's husband said. "We have to pace ourselves."

A makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, flowers and handwritten notes is growing around the white sign that marks the school's entrance. It is a sign that reads "Visitors welcome."

One resident brought a bouquet of flowers to the memorial after learning two boys on her child's baseball team were killed.

"We didn't lose two baseball players, we lost two members of a family," she said.

Resident Pamela Herbstman also described the town of about 27,000 people as having a family environment. She said that lifestyle will help with the healing process.

Herbstman's two children were in the school and survived the shooting. Saturday, they decided to alter their preplanned garage sale to raise money for the victims.

"I wish I could rewind to the other day," she said.

Kyle Pisquarella and his youth ministry group traveled 45 minutes to Newtown to add a growing vigil of bears and candles.

"We just had to come see it and be part of the community," he said. "These kids are gone just as they were beginning their lives."

The father of one victim, the first to speak publicly about his loss, gathered his strength to express his feelings and offer his hand to all the others who are mourning.

"I'm not mad, because I have my agency to make sure that I use this event to do what I can to do whatever I can. I want to make sure that my family, my wife and my daughters, are taken care of. And that, if there is anything I can do to help anybody at any time anywhere, I'd be willing to do that," said Robbie Parker, father of 6-year-old victim Emilie Parker.

Places of worship in Newtown are opening their doors to everyone as they grieve, with many holding prayer services throughout the day. After sundown Saturday, mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil.

Along Connecticut's highways, every electronic billboard displays a tribute to the victims.

Phone lines for counseling are also open.

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