Nick and C.J. Maurer were looking forward to leaving their Buffalo apartments for Christmas at their father’s house in Newtown, Conn.

Now the visit home will take on a whole new meaning.

After a gunman Friday killed 26 people and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School – which both brothers attended – they’ll return to a community enveloped in grief.

“It’s going to be somber this year,” said C.J. Maurer, 26, who runs a Buffalo marketing company. “It just doesn’t feel real.”

The recent St. Bonaventure graduates said they did double takes when news alerts popped up on their cellphones describing the tragedy.

“You hear it all the time, but when horrible events like this happen, its always something you sit watching from a distance and don’t have that personal connection,” said Nick Maurer, 23, who sells copiers in Niagara County.

That has all changed, as suddenly the brothers’ thoughts are on their small hometown and the elementary school that sits just three miles from their childhood home.

“How are those kids going to feel good about going back to that same building?” asked C.J. Maurer, who described Newtown as an affluent suburb comparable in some ways to Orchard Park. The town has long been known as a sleepy bedroom community of fewer than 30,000 people, some of whom commute each day to New York City.

“Everyone knew everyone,” C.J. Maurer said. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”

It was just about the last place, they thought, that would ever make national news.

“It’s a surprise because we always joked about how there was never something to do in Newtown,” Maurer said. “I think that’s what parents look for when they bring their families there, to have a safe place.”

That safety was shattered Friday by a gunman who was reportedly a classmate of Maurer’s sister. At least 20 children were killed when the gunman opened fire.

“His name is strikingly familiar,” C.J. Maurer said. “If I saw his face, I would most likely recognize him. What could possess him to do that, I have no idea.”

The brothers are grieving for their hometown, they said, and especially for the families who had children at the school and those who survived the attack.

“You don’t want them to lose their innocence, you don’t want them to see things like this,” Nick Maurer said.

Neither brother knew the shooter and – like most – they struggled to understand the meaning behind the shootings.

“As a human race, we are imperfect, and these things are a sad rendering of our imperfections,” C.J. Maurer said.