The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 17, 2012

'We are broken,' Newtown residents tell Daily Item reporter

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— NEWTOWN, Conn. - Early morning came with freezing rain in Newtown on Sunday, hardly noticed by the grieving residents already numbed by the violent deaths of six adults and 20 young children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School two days earlier.  

“We are at a loss for words,” said retired teacher and former Newtown High School football coach Bob Joseph. “This whole thing is a nightmare. I look at these names and I only hope these names aren’t the same names of children of students I used to teach and coach.”

Joseph and his wife, Pat, were standing on the corner of Dickenson Drive and Main Street in downtown Newtown.

They were praying near the hundreds of candles and stuffed animals people had left as signs of remembrance for those who died Friday morning when 20-year-old Adam Lanza broke into the school armed with an assault rifle and went on a shooting spree before committing suicide inside the school.

‘We are just in shock’

“We are just in shock and we are so saddened by all of this,” Joseph said, repeating a refrain that would be heard again and again in the New England community of 27,000. It is a place much like Lewisburg, with quaint shops lining a downtown business district, Christmas decorations reflecting off a creek through town and a sense of family in these hours of grief.

 “Can I ask you a question?” a reporter asked one woman who was kneeling to pray at the makeshift shrine.

 “Sure, if I can ask one first,” she said. “Do you know any of these victims or any of their families?”

The reporter shook his head no.

“Well, I do,” she said. “We all do who live here. We are broken. We are grieving. And as much as we appreciate the media letting people know how much we are grieving, right now we don’t care who is in the town or who is coming to our town. We just care about those children and adults who will be forever known to us as heroes.”

A block away, hundreds of people gathered and held hands and hugged.

“Everybody knows somebody in this town,” resident Lori Lopez said. “I came to pay my respects and all I can say is we are in shock, and we are hurting. I agree with saying we are broken.”

Two miles up the road, an overflow crowd spilled out of church services at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, with its now familiar white-pillared portico, that has become an iconic location for the community in the past two days. Some parishioners stood outside, forming a barrier to the media.

 “We understand that you all are here,” one man said. “But please understand and be aware of why we as our town are all here as well.”

Phone threat

Near noon, a monsignor at St. Rose said a telephone caller told him, “I’m coming to kill, I’m coming to kill.” Several police and SWAT team members evacuated the services. An hour later, police said the location was safe.

One by one, candles were lighted and people knelt in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother and prayed.

At local eating establishments, including the Blue Colony Diner, people sat at their tables, shaking their heads, wondering what was happening in the quiet town they call home.

“There have never been this many people in our community,” a woman said. “This is so shocking and to see all these people is just overwhelming.”

Evil strikes

One man inside the diner may have summed up the eerie feeling in Newtown. “We had evil strike us. It continues to hold onto every one of us,” he said. “We will fight together and stand together, and we will have love free us.”

Outside, Rebecca Castegner sat with several of her former classmates, asking for donations to help the families of the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School, whose lives were taken Friday by Adam Lanza.

Castegner, 20, remembered Lanza was a former classmate and neighbor. “I used to ride the bus with Adam,” Castegner recalled. “They live right up the street. My mom talked to his mom when she would be running.”

During their investigation, police found Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, dead inside her Yogananda Street home.

“This is all so devastating and I would have never thought anything like this would happen,” Castegner said. “I didn’t see or talk to Adam much after elementary school, but when I heard the news and saw our street filling with media and police, it was just something I never thought would happen.”

Castegner said she is unsure how children can go back to the elementary school where they once felt safe.

“This is something that everyone is talking about. I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.

Several of her other classmates and some current high school students sat on the bench near the diner, struggling with what was happening in their town.

Harrison Depuy, 15, a sophomore at Newtown High School, said teachers and administrators didn’t inform high school students what was happening on Friday, but students began getting text messages.

“I saw a sniper on the roof,” he said. “We knew something was going on, we just didn’t know what.”

“This is all so crazy,” said Depuy. “It’s just all so sad.”