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A search for normality as Newtown schools reopen after massacre

December 18, 2012|By Tina Susman and Michael Muskal

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- Amid increased security, schools reopened here on Tuesday as this town searched for a road back to normality after last week’s massacre at a local elementary school.

Funerals for the 20 first-graders and six adults killed Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School will continue throughout the week. Two children were buried on Monday amid the cold and rain and two more funerals are scheduled for Tuesday.

Sandy Hook remained closed, however, and will likely be shuttered for months as authorities continue their investigation into the shooting spree by Adam Lanza, 20, who killed himself after invading the school, opening fire on students and staff and then turning a gun on himself.

The weapons Lanza used were legally owned by his mother, Nancy, who was the first of the 28 people who died from bullets that morning.

Yellow school buses rumbled along roads Tuesday morning, some still dotted with makeshift memorials to those who were slain. Children laden with book bags waited outside their homes for the buses.

 PHOTOS: Shooting at Connecticut school

But it was clear this would not be a normal day for them despite teachers' efforts and the stepped-up presence oflawenforcement. Staffers met on Monday with psychologists and other specialists to hear how to handle their own grief and children's questions.

“It's important to try to make things feel normal for her,” a mother who would give only her first name -- Barbara -- said, explaining why she decided to have her 8-year-old daughter head back to classes.

 FULL COVERAGE: Shooting at Connecticut school

Barbara, who was driving her daughter to school, said she knew not all parents would be comfortable letting their kids go into the schools, even with extra security. “I'll be a lot more anxious than usual,” she admitted.

Newtown police Lt. George Sinko said sending children back to school is a personal choice and parents would have to make their own decisions.

“I can't imagine what it must be like being a parent with a child that young, putting them on a school bus,” Sinko said.

In addition to trying to reassure parents, the increased police presence helped keep the media from the schools. Police have also said they will severely prosecute anyone perpetrating hoaxes, such as two telephone calls saying there were bombs on the grounds of a local church, St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church.

Police have been told to act aggressively, as they did in nearby Ridgefield on Monday where they shut down schools amid reports of a suspicious man at the train station. After investigating, police told reporters there was no threat.

In addition to the investigation at Ridgefield, about 20 miles from Newtown, there have been reports across the country of closures by anxious officials. Two schools were locked down in South Burlington, Vt., and a high school in Windham, N.H., was briefly locked down. Neither case involved any threat.

Two more children will be buried on Tuesday and both funerals will be held at St. Rose, which has been a center of grief counseling and community support. Services will be held for 6-year-olds Jessica Rekos and James Mattioli.

Jessica was avid about horses and had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat this year, according to her family. “Jessica loved everything about horses,” her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement. “She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses and writing stories about horses.”

James was described by his relatives as a “numbers guy” who loved math.

On Monday, two funeral homes were filled with mourners for Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6. Pozner had a Jewish service and Pinto a Christian one.

Noah Pozner’s twin, Arielle, survived the rampage because she was assigned a different classroom.

Pinto,  a fan of New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, was laid to rest in a Cruz jersey.

Even as authorities continued to investigate the shooting, the political questions of gun control has returned to the public agenda. The debate received a big push Tuesday morning when the private equity firm Cerberus  Capital Management LP said it is seeking to sell the company that manufactures a gun used in the Sandy Hook rampage.

The primary weapon in the massacre has been identified as a .223-cal. Bushmaster AR-15. Cerberus has acquired a number of companies that make guns and ammunition, including rifle maker Bushmaster Firearms International, which made the weapon used in Newtown.

“We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group,” Cerberus said in a statement released on Tuesday. “We believe that this decision allows us to meet our obligations to the investors whose interests we are entrusted to protect without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so.”

President Obama, who visited Newton on Sunday, has asked some of his cabinet to come up with gun control suggestions for Congress to consider. His spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the president will meet withlaw enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time advocate of tougher gun control, has stepped up his campaign, appearing on talk shows on Tuesday. On Monday he held a news conference with survivors and relatives of shootings around the country.

"If this doesn't do it," he asked, "what is going to?"

In Washington, even gun-rights supporters have changed their position in the wake of the shooting.

“Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered. This never happened in America, that I can recall, ever seeing this kind of carnage,”  Sen. Joe Manchin III, a West Virginia Democrat who has earned top marks from the gun industry, said in a statement. “This has changed where we go from here.”

The focus of gun-control efforts seem to be centered on assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Do we really need that many bullets to kill a deer?” Shane Miller of Newtown said as she stood near the funeralhomewhere many of the victims' services were being held. This area, with its vast forested areas, is a draw for hunters, but Miller said attitudes toward firearms needed to change.

“If it has to be Newtown that makes that change, I would be very pleased about it,” said Miller, who has grandchildren the same age as many of the 6-year-old victims.

Susman reported from Newtown, Conn., and Muskal from Los Angeles.

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