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Mourners gather as Connecticut shooting investigation continues

December 17, 2012|By Tina Susman and Brian Bennett

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- One loved to play and build things and the other loved his New York Giants football. Grief-stricken relatives buried them separately on  Monday, the first of a series of funerals tugging at a nation’s sensibilities.

Twenty children and six adults were shot to death when a lone gunman invaded the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning. The suspect, Adam Lanza, began his rampage by killing his mother, Nancy, and ended it by shooting himself to death, authorities said.

Mourners waited in line under a steel gray sky to give their condolences to Noah Pozner's family at the Abraham L. Green and Son Funeral Home in Fairfield, Conn. As mourners filed inside, bundled in black coats and muted scarves against the cold and damp day, some men wore yarmulkes, a Jewish skullcap, and a few had wide-brimmed black hats.

PHOTOS: Shooting at Connecticut school

The small wooden casket with a raised Star of David carved into the lid sat in the reception room. A school social worker who lives in Brookfield, Conn., Ray Di Stephen, said his 6-year-old son Jack was a playmate of Noah, also 6. The pair must have played together more than 100 times in the few years the children had together.

Di Stephen said he remembered Noah as a quiet, happy kid. Noah was “easygoing” and was always game to do what Jack wanted to do, he said. Sometimes that was assembling elaborate Lego sets, other times it meant winging Angry Birds-themed pillows at boxes the boys stacked up in Jack's room.

“He was a really cool kid,” Di Stephen said, bringing his hand to the corner of his eye to catch a tear.

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Two hours before the service was to begin, people began streaming into the funeral home where Jack Pinto's Christian service was taking place. Many of the mourners were young boys who wore sports jerseys, especially football jerseys, a nod to Jack's love of the sport and especially the Giants.

The crowd waited as those before them stopped at the front door of the funeral home -- a Colonial-style building with a Christmas wreath on the green door -- and clutched one another in long hugs. Some were crying. A lot of the children, too young to know exactly what had happened, fidgeted in the cold and chattered among themselves.

As the service began, the door with the wreath was closed. Then, about 45 minutes later, a man carried several large funeral wreaths from the home into a waiting vehicle. The casket, with red and white flowers on top, was moved into the waiting hearse. The family was shielded from view as it entered a waiting black limousine with tinted windows. The procession headed down Main Street toward the Village Cemetery overlooking a placid pond, where a freshly dug grave was waiting.

Officials urged journalists to give the families space to mourn. At an afternoon news conference – the last of the live briefings – State police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance again asked for privacy during this funeral week.

“Families are grieving,” Vance told reporters. “Many of the families have asked and plea for their privacy as they go through this terrible, terrible tragedy they are dealing with.”

Even as the funerals began, many people were still trying to make sense of the shootings. Vance promised that officials would continue working 24 hours a day to sort through the evidence and interviews with witnesses to try to explain how and why the shootings took place.

Students began returning to school in Connecticut, but there was an air of heightened caution. In Ridgefield, officials locked down the district after reports of a suspicious person at a train station. “Local police investigated and cleared the matter,” Vance said. “It was not a threat.”

But he promised that officials would remain vigilant. “The blanket of public safety will be strict,” he said.

Because it remains an active crime scene, it could be months before the elementary school is reopened. Classes remained canceled and officials were planning on sending the students to a school in the nearby town of Monroe. Desks were being removed from Sandy Hook to be taken to the new school.

Staff writer Michael Muskal in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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