In Newtown, streets full of relief efforts and reporters

Red Cross personnel provide blankets, water, snacks and even stuffed toys to keep people comfortable as they wait in line to attend an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Red Cross personnel provide blankets, water, snacks and even stuffed toys to keep people comfortable as they wait in line to attend an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) (AP)
Posted: December 18, 2012

NEWTOWN, Conn. – It was freezing outside the diner just off I-84, but Cole Depuy, wearing a Santa Claus hat and wrapped in a bright blue scarf, wasn't complaining.

A large coffee can sat on the folding table in front of him, half-full with $10s and $20s and more than a few $50s - all, Depuy said, heading for families of the 26 people killed at his former elementary school Friday morning.

"It's not much, but people want to help. You've got to give them an outlet," he said. His station – dubbed Santas for Sandy Hook - was one of 12 in and around Sandy Hook, all staffed by local youth who had mobilized Saturday via group text message.

On Saturday, they had raised around $3,500. By early Sunday afternoon, they had passed the $5,000 mark. They planned to pool the cash and write 26 personal checks to help cover funeral costs for victims' families.

Depuy, a senior at the University of Vermont, attended kindergarten at Sandy Hook and has fond memories of the school - "It's where I learned my ABCs," he said. For Depuy, Friday's tragedy hit especially hard - he knew the family of 6-year-old victim Jesse Lewis well and spent his community-service hours in high school mentoring Lewis' older brother.

"It's absolutely unbearable," he said. "I've cried a million times. It's something else to turn on the radio and hear your town's tragedy."

In the two days since the Sandy Hook massacre, in which Newtown resident Adam Lanza, 20, allegedly shot and killed 20 schoolchildren, six school employees, and his mother before killing himself, Newtown has been inundated - not just with media covering one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, but with donations and support from around the world.

There are the homegrown efforts, like Santas for Sandy Hook and the fund the Newtown Savings Bank has set up with the United Way. There's the toy store less than a mile from Sandy Hook Elementary that has established a toy-donation program for survivors.

There's also an online fund-raiser started by a California man that has raised more than $46,000 for the Sandy Hook Parent Teacher School Association in less than two days, and a photographer from Gloucester County raising money on his website for the Newtown Police Department.

"The way I look at it, this is the holiday season. We're going around buying gifts. These [families] have to buy caskets for their children," said Marc Matteo, owner of Marc Anthony Photography in Washington Township, N.J. "The parents shouldn't have to worry about paying for anything."

There was no sign anything was returning to normal in Sandy Hook on Sunday afternoon, with what Depuy called a "space station of satellite trucks" perched in church parking lots and on the curb next to a makeshift memorial on Church Hill Road. President Obama traveled to Newtown from Washington on Sunday afternoon to speak at a nighttime memorial service. Each time lines of state police cars passed through town, as they did throughout the day, residents whipped out cellphones in hopes of capturing a picture of a world leader coming to console a community in grief.

Such expressions of excitement were rare. The mood downtown was more subdued than anything else. Residents and visitors clutched stuffed animals and bouquets of flowers as they solemnly made their way to the Sandy Hook Firehouse, where the sign pointing down the road to Sandy Hook Elementary is covered in flowers, teddy bears, and signs.

Sierra Luce, 10, dropped $4 into a Santas for Sandy Hook collection jar and shook her head when a volunteer asked whether she'd like a stuffed animal. A fifth-grader from Groton, she was in DARE class Friday when her instructor, a state trooper, was called to the scene at Sandy Hook Elementary.

"I feel bad for them because they had to go through this," she said. Her mother, Gisele, said Sierra had asked to visit the memorial.

Relief in Newtown isn't only monetary. Grief counselors were on hand all weekend at Danbury Hospital and Reed Intermediate School.

The Newtown Youth Association, which runs all the local youth sports teams, will host a field day on Monday for local children with crafts and sports to try to help them get their mind off the tragedy.

St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic church where eight victims attended Mass, has been handing out hand-knitted prayer scarves to residents and brought in a therapy dog for distraught parishioners on Friday night. On Sunday morning, parishioners were unnerved after Msgr. Robert Weiss interrupted the homily to announce that a threat had been made against the church and urged attendees to evacuate immediately. State police found nothing during a sweep of the building, but closed the worship site for the rest of the day.

"Somebody asked me what to say to people," said the Rev. John Inserra, who served at St. Rose from 2003 to '09. "You don't say anything. You just hug them."

He knows the families of several victims, he said, and drove from Greenwich after hearing on the local news about the shootings.

"I called the rectory here, and said, 'What school is it?' And they told me it was Sandy Hook," he said. "I turned on the news again, and the number [of dead] went up. And that's when I had to come up."


Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112, awhelan@philly.com, or follow on Twitter at @aubreyjwhelan.

Inquirer staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|