Three days after it suffered one of the worst mass shootings in US history, Newtown in Connecticut has begun the dreadful process of burying the 27 victims on Monday, starting with two of the young children to be killed in their classrooms at Sandy Hook elementary school.
One of the two boys was the youngest of all the children to have died, Noah Pozner, who turned six last month. He was described by a relative as a “really lively, smart kid” whose family had moved to Connecticut from Brooklyn for the quality and security of its schools.
White balloons lined the street outside the funeral home where the ceremony for Noah took place. The balloons bobbed around in the light breeze as dozens waited patiently to enter the building and pay their respects.
“Our hearts are with you Noah,” said a green sign pinned to a tree outside the Abraham L Green & Son funeral home. Flowers and a brown teddy bear had been placed at the base of the tree.
Amoung the mourners was his twin sister. She had been at the school on Friday morning, but was in a different classroom and survived.
Rabbi Shaul Praver, who was leading the funeral in Fairfield, a town 25 miles away from Newtown, said he had spoken to the mother of the boy and counselled her on the hard road ahead. “I told the mother not to plan the rest of her life out right now because she says: ‘What am I going to do without my baby?’”
Guests walked slowly into the wood-panelled funeral home at around 12.30pm, some wearing blue ribbons in their lapels with cut off angels in the centre that have become the symbol of the Sandy Hook school tragedy. The street, which runs away from one of the main roads through Fairfield towards the shore, was blocked off to the public as the Pozner family prepared to bid Noah farewell in private.
Outside the home Rabbi Yakov Barros said people at the funeral were from “all walks of life”. He did not know the Pozner family but had travelled from the Catskills in New York, where he is involved with the South Fallsburg Hebrew Association.
“I’m here as a human being offering my love and support,” Barros said. He said that the Pozner family had felt “tremendous warmth” that he had travelled to be at the funeral. “The mother was very touched. She was crying at the fact I came.”
Just before 2pm people began to slowly file out of the funeral home where Noah Pozner’s funeral took place. The door to the black hearse opened, and was closed. Police motorcycles led the procession away.
Roxanne Dunn, who taught Noah and his twin sister karate, said their mother had given a “beautiful” speech, telling the mourners that her son “would always be a part of her. He’ll always be part of our lives.”
“It touched us all,” said Dunn, wiping away tears.
“He was a beautiful child. A beautiful family. A really, really good family,” she said, adding that during karate lessons Noah and his sister had “never wanted to be put on different teams, they always wanted to be on the same team”.
Audrey Petschek, 48, has lived close to Sandy Hook school for over 20 years. “I just think its important that everybody in Newtown is there to support the families,” she said.
She said it had been a “very personal and loving tribute”.
Pozner’s elder brother had spoken at the funeral, Petschek said. “Just how he had an endless love for his brother. He’s very strong right now. He’s being remarkably strong.”
Pozner’s mother spoke too. “She’s obviously numb too,” Petschek said. “But, you know, a mother’s love … It was hard to hear.”
The second funeral was for Jack Pinto, also six, whose main passion had been the New York Giants American football team. In photos, he was shown with an NY logo drawn on his face and “Go Giants!” tattooed in crayon on his hand. His favourite player was the receiver Victor Cruz, who played against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday with “Jack Pinto, My Hero” written on his boots.
Mourners gathered for his wake at Honan funeral home onNewtown Main Street, filing around the little boy’s closed casket. The venue was a white clapperboard building in the classic New England style that seemed almost too elegant and refined in the circumstances, considering the horror that had brought the people here.
Outside about 20 of the boy’s friends, some wearing sweat shirts of theNewtown Youth Wrestling Association which he had joined just a year ago, milled around on the lawn. At times they played tag around the beech treesrising above the funeral home, in a display of the enduring irrepressibility ofyouth.
Across the road a line of photographers and TV cameras stretched as far as the eye could see, media outnumbering mourners. Some Newtown residents were clearly unhappy about the media spectacle: a passing lorry driver wound down his window and shouted expletives at the photographers, telling them to get out of town.
This modestly sized community of about 25,000 people is now bracing itself for a sickening glut of funerals: those of the 20 children, the six teachers and teaching assistants, as well eventually as those of the shooter Adam Lanza and his mother, Nancy, whom he killed before setting off for the school. As a way of making manifest the grief, of memorialising it, residents and visitors have set up makeshift shrines that grow larger with every day.
Sandy Hook fire house, where 20 sets of parents learned that their children would not be coming home, has become the main site of mourning. People drift to and from the growing memorial, some leaving flowers, others soft toys. Many just stand in silence.
There is a Christmas tree for each victim, and a space in the middle of the festive shrubbery is filled with flowers, balloons and toys. Two awnings have been erected to shield the tributes and protect the hundreds of candles glowing against the damp greyness of the New England day.
The decorations in the trees reflect the age of most of the victims. Teddy bears peer out from between the branches; toy rabbits and pigs have been placed at the base of other trees. Two Teletubbies sit in adjacent trees; a Kung Fu Panda balances precariously in another.
Anika Tarne, 18, was reading some of the messages left by wellwishers. She moved to Newtown five months ago, from Hannover in Germany. “I just can’t believe it’s happened here,” she said. Tarne is working as an au pair in Newtown during her gap year. “My au pair son is seven, but is at a different primary school.”
Her parents had called her after the shooting on Friday. “They were shocked and afraid,” Tarne said. “They just cried, and then they were totally afraid that something could happen to me.”
The road down to the center of Sandy Hook is adorned with tributes to those killed. Many of the houses have erected banners asking for prayers or expressing hope. On the lawn of one home, 20 wooden angels have been placed, the two-foot high structures each with flowers and teddy bears at their feet.
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