Newtown, from post-card pretty to deeply scarred
NEWTOWN, Connecticut (AFP) - Evil, as the governor described it, seems incompatible with a place as quaint as this.
The latest American community to be bathed thick in blood by a crazed shooter - this time the victims included 20 elementary school children - is a small town surrounded by woods, rolling hills and creeks.
Handsome homes of brick or wood line leafy streets. The population is 27,000 and everybody knows everybody. Main street is just a few clothing or gift shops and a couple of family style-restaurants.
Next to one gas station there is a diner, a quintessential American diner.
Newtown was founded 300 years ago, and is proud of its newspaper, The Newtown Bee, a weekly that has been up and running since 1877.
On Friday it scored a sad exclusive, being the first to run a photo of the massacre unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The final death toll was 28: besides the kids, six staff, the shooter and his mother, but not at the school.
"Evil visited this community today," Connecticut governor Dan Malloy said as the impact of the carnage was still setting in Friday.
"Newtown, Connecticut, the second worst massacre in US history? It's not possible," said retiree Ray Horvath, who helps look after kids before and after school and says he knows about 60 of the 600 pupils at Sandy Hook.
The worst campus massacre was the Virginia Tech university slayings in 2007, with 32 dead and 17 wounded.
"There is a culture of death in the world and here we've got a glimpse of this," said Rick Scinto, a deacon.
Saturday dawned sunny but cold in Newtown.
Locals dodged gaggles of reporters trying to interview anything that moved as they ventured out of their homes trying to digest the horror that had befallen them.
Handwritten posters had popped up overnight on the main drag.
"Our love and prayers are with our community," read one.
"Hug a teacher today," read another, reflecting the widespread sentiment that many educators at Sandy Hook died, or survived, while trying to save little kids.
People are afraid their town will now become as notorious as Columbine - the Colorado town where two students with guns and explosives killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded 21 others in a high school massacre in 1999.
One woman who did not want to be identified voiced the obvious. "We would have preferred not to be put on the map because of this," she said.
For now, people find religion to be comforting.
"I think we need to move forward. We rally around those who are hurt, and we move forward," deacon Scinto said.
A huge Mass was held on Friday night at the Church of St Rose of Lima. More services in memory of the massacre victims were planned for Saturday.