NEWTOWN, Conn. — With security stepped up and families still on edge in Newtown, students began returning to school Tuesday for the first time since last week’s massacre, bringing a return of familiar routines — at least, for some — to a grief-stricken town as it buries 20 of its children.
A 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were laid to rest Tuesday, the latest in a long, almost unbearable procession of funerals. A total of 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history.
Buses ferrying students to schools were festooned with large green-and-white ribbons on the front grills, the colors of Sandy Hook, as classes resumed for all Newtown schools except the stricken elementary school.
At Newtown High School, students in sweat shirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, betrayed mixed emotions. Some waved at or snapped photos of the assembled media horde, and others appeared visibly shaken.
“There’s going to be no joy in school,” said 17-year-old senior P.J. Hickey. “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 first of eight to be held in the coming days at the church.
As mourners gathered outside, a motorcade led by police motorcycles arrived for the funeral of little James, who especially loved recess and math, and whose family described as a “numbers guy” who couldn’t wait until he was old enough to order a foot-long Subway sandwich.
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.
Traffic in front of the church slowed to a crawl as police directed vehicles into the church parking lot. At one point a school bus carrying elementary students became stuck in traffic. The children pressed their faces into the windows, sadly watching as mourners assembled at the church
At the high school, students didn’t expect to get much work done Tuesday and spent much of the day talking about the terrible events of last week carried out by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
“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. Nobody can do this alone,” Hickey said.
Sophomore Tate Schwab agreed. “It’s definitely better than just sitting at home watching the news,” he said. “It really hasn’t sunk in yet. It feels to me like it hasn’t happened. It’s really weird.”
As for concerns about safety, the students were defiant.
“This is where I feel the most at home,” Hickey said. “I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world.”
Some parents kept their children at home anyway Tuesday, as local police and school officials planned how and where to increase security. State police said they were on alert for threats and hoaxes.
One Newtown school, Head O’Meadow Elementary, was reportedly locked down Tuesday due to an unspecified threat. The principal told parents to keep their children home, according to a letter from the principal published by WFSB-TV.
Authorities say the horrible events of Friday began when Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, at their home, then took her car and some of her guns to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary, where he broke in and opened fire, killing 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.
A Connecticut official said the mother, a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges, was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
Lanza was wearing all black, with an olive-drab utility vest with lots of pockets, during the attack.
As investigators worked to figure out what drove him to lash out with such fury — and why he singled out the school — federal agents said that he had fired guns at shooting ranges over the past several years, though there was no evidence he had done so recently.
Debora Seifert, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said both Lanza and his mother fired at shooting ranges, sometimes visiting them together.
“We do not have any indication at this time that the shooter engaged in shooting activities in the past six months,” Seifert said.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the attack.
Whatever his motives, normalcy will be slow in returning to Newtown. Classes were canceled districtwide Monday.
Dan Capodicci, whose 10-year-old daughter attends the school at St. Rose of Lima church, said it was time for her to get back to classes.
“It’s the right thing to do. You have to send your kids back. But at the same time I’m worried,” he said. “We need to get back to normal.”
The district has made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to Chalk Hill, a former middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Sandy Hook desks that will fit the small students were being taken there, and tradesmen were donating their services to get the school ready within a matter of days.
With Sandy Hook Elementary still designated a crime scene, state police Lt. Paul Vance said it could be months before police turn the school back over to the district.
Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, a civilian version of the military’s M-16. It is similar to the weapon used in a recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon and other deadly attacks around the U.S. Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in this country under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the law expired in 2004.
Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced Tuesday it plans to sell its stake in Freedom Group, maker of the Bushmaster rifle, following the school shootings.
Cerberus said in a statement that it was deeply saddened by Friday’s events, and that it will hire a financial adviser to help with the process of selling its Freedom Group interests.
The outlines of a national debate on gun control have begun to take shape. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution.”
Carney did not offer specific proposals or a timeline. He said President Barack Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by shooting survivors and relatives of victims of gunfire around the country, pressed Obama and Congress to toughen gun laws and tighten enforcement after the Newtown massacre.
“If this doesn’t do it,” he asked, “what is going to?”
At least one senator, Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, said Monday that the attack in Newtown has led him to rethink his opposition to the ban on assault weapons.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is an avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said it’s time to move beyond the political rhetoric and begin an honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns.
“This is bigger than just about guns,” he added. “It’s about how we treat people with mental illness, how we intervene, how we get them the care they need, how we protect our schools. It’s just so sad.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed, Helen O’Neill, John Christoffersen, Pat Eaton-Robb and Katie Zezima in Newtown; and Christine Armario in Miami.