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December 19, 2012

Shooting Aftermath: Classes resume in Newtown

NEWTON, Conn. — Newtown returned its students to their classrooms Tuesday for the first time since last week’s massacre.

The grieving town also faced the agonizing task of laying the dead to rest, as it wrestled with the same issues gripping the country: violence, gun control and finding a way forward.

Funerals were held for two more of the tiny fallen — a 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl. A total of 26 people were gunned down Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history. The gunman also killed his mother in her home, before committing suicide.

 Students at Sandy Hook seemed to welcome routine as they arrived aboard buses festooned with large green-and-white ribbons — the colors of the stricken elementary school.

“We’re going to be able to comfort each other and try and help each other get through this, because that’s the only way we’re going to do it,” said 17-year-old P.J. Hickey, a senior at Newtown High School. “Nobody can do this alone.”

Still, he noted: “There’s going to be no joy in school. It really doesn’t feel like Christmas anymore.”

At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, back-to-back funerals were held for first-graders James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, the third and fourth so far. Memorial services and wakes were also held for some of the adult victims.

As mourners gathered outside, a motorcade led by police motorcycles arrived for the funeral of little James, who especially loved recess and math and who was described by his family as a “numbers guy” who couldn’t wait until he was old enough to order a foot-long Subway sandwich.

Traffic in front of the church slowed to a crawl as police directed vehicles into the parking lot. At one point, a school bus carrying elementary students got stuck in traffic, and the children, pressing their faces into the windows, sadly watched as the mourners assembled.

Inside the church, James’ mother stood and remembered her son.

“It was very somber, it was very sad, it was very moving,” said Clare Savarese, who taught the boy in preschool and recalled him as “a lovely little boy, a sweet little angel.”

The service had not yet concluded when mourners began arriving for the funeral of Jessica, who loved horses and was counting the years until she turned 10, when her family had promised her a horse of her own. For Christmas, she had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

“We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are,” her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement.

At a wake for 27-year-old first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, hundreds of mourners, many wearing green-and-white ribbons, stood in a line that wrapped around a funeral home in nearby Stratford, Conn.

“Big smile, great eyes, just a wonderful person,” Lauren Ostrofsky said of Soto, who was killed as she tried to shield her students from the gunman. “If anyone could be an example of what a person should be today, it’s her.”

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