One of the 26 trees at a shrine for the Connecticut shooting victims. (Brian Bennett )
NEWTOWN, Conn. -- They walked to Sandy Hook in twos and threes, some with children in strollers or infants bundled against the chill and fog.
Some had teddy bears tucked under their arms. Others held bouquets of fresh flowers, Christmas wreaths with red ribbon, balloons in pink and blue and white. They came to leave gifts and cards and candles at a roadside shrine near Sandy Hook Elementary School on Sunday night.
Police cars blocked the road to the school, and traffic was backed up even farther. So most visitors parked two miles away near the center of town and walked the slick icy road, talking in whispers, if at all. Mostly, a quiet parade of pilgrims passed through the freezing night.
PHOTOS: Shooting at Connecticut school
Ven Pad, 47, a software consultant from the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles, came to place a cluster of flowers at the school. He had been working on a business project in Nashua, N.H., and decided to make the three-hour drive to Newtown.
"These are children. It is horrible," he said, his thin blazer tugged tight against the cold. "I came to pay my respects."
A block from the school, firefighters had set up 26 6-foot Christmas trees, one for each of the children, teachers and administrators killed at the school Friday.
One firefighter said a North Carolina woman had called Saturday to buy the trees from the fire department's annual Christmas tree lot. She wanted the trees for those who died, said the firefighter, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
FULL COVERAGE: Shooting at Connecticut school
Firefighters arranged the trees on both sides of the school’s white wooden sign, which reads: "Sandy Hook School 1956. Visitors Welcome."
From the sign, someone had hung a pair of child-sized white-feather angel wings.
On one tree, hanging by a blue ribbon, was a bell -- as if its tinkle could give wings to a new angel.
Other decorations included stuffed animals -- a green monkey, a white polar bear, a Dalmatian puppy. Notes and homemade ornaments also hung from the boughs. A chain of white folded swans was draped across one tree with the letters "RIP." A sign at the base of another read, "Mr president, please make your legacy to end gun violence."
WHO THEY WERE: Shooting victims
Lindsay Warner, 21, from nearby Trumbull, Conn., is studying to be a speech therapist and knows she could find herself in a similar classroom soon.
"It is in our backyard. You think this can happen anywhere, but it is different when it happens so close," Warner said as she looked at the trees.
She hoped she would be brave enough to give her life to protect children if need be.
"They're just kids, just starting their lives," she said.
The last couple of days have been marked by "a lot of silence," said another visitor, Vanna Vazouras, 18, a waitress at an Italian restaurant in Monroe, Conn. She doesn't know what to say to her family or her friends, many of whom were close to families who lost children Friday.
Vazouras didn't want to leave her house all weekend, she said, but had to clock in for work. Business has been slow since the shooting. Her regular customers mostly stayed home, she said.
"It's been tough to cope. When it's in your backyard it affects you a lot," she said, as she and a friend walked away from the shrine, back toward the lights of town.
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