NEWTOWN, Conn. — More messages of hope and solidarity poured into Newtown on Monday as the town prepared to observe Christmas Eve 10 days after the elementary school massacre that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six teachers and administrators.
Two dozen children and six adults arrived at town hall in the morning to deliver hundreds of handmade cards and snowflakes collected as they toured the state in a charter bus.
One of the organizers, Gwen Samuel of Meriden, said “we just want them to know they’re not alone in their journey.”
The effort was intended to give Connecticut children a chance to express their feelings about the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Police said 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother before going on the shooting rampage, then committed suicide. If they know why he shot his way into the school and gunned down 26 people, they have not said.
In the week since the shooting, messages similar to the ones delivered Monday have poured into Newtown from all over the world. People have donated toys, books, money and more.
“We know that they’ll feel loved. They’ll feel that somebody actually cares,” said 15-year-old Treyvon Smalls of Middlebury, a few towns away from Newtown.
“It gives us all a chance to speak out.”
As Treyvon and the students traveling with him delivered their notes, another group of roughly two dozen people met in the town hall auditorium for a prayer service that was as much therapy session as religious gathering.
Attendees expressed their sorrow and fears and looked to each other for support as they talked about what happened.
The town hall has become a gathering point for those dropping off donations and in need of a place to congregate and find comfort in one another. A “peace tree” created out of a log and adorned with a heart-shaped wreath, numerous peace signs and Christmas decorations sit in front of the town hall steps, where a large banner proclaims, “Together we birth a culture of peace.”
Karen Pierce, one of the town hall’s elected building managers, has been helping accept the deluge of donations and expressions of support that have been coming in all week.
“We’ve had people from all over the country. It is incredible, it’s heartwarming, it’s overwhelming. It’s invigorating and exhausting,” she said. “It’s so uplifting and I believe that’s what’s been getting people through.”
The town has been so inundated with donations for children that Pierce said she has redistributed some to other children dropping off their own notes and donations, saying that with their acts of kindness they too have qualified to be children of Newtown.
On Monday, she gave each of the children dropping off cards a golden stuffed monkey.
She chose gold, she said, because it symbolizes a new dawn that everyone needs.
“At the same time we have this outpouring and we want to make sure we give respect for every phone call, every card, every gift, every flower, every kind word,” she said. “And so that’s one of the things that everyone in the community is trying to do is make sure while people are honoring us, that’s the big question, how do you say to the world `Thank you?”’
Later Monday, people throughout Newtown were expected to light luminaries outside in memory of those killed.
The idea was hatched by Nicole Russo of Fairfield, who has two nephews who attend Sandy Hook Elementary School and were unharmed. She decided to bring her neighborhood’s Christmas tradition of lighting the way for Santa to Newtown.
“My husband and I were saying we feel so helpless, you know, we’re 30 miles away and we’re helpless,” she said.
After a group of her friends got together and started a `Luminaries of Love’ outreach campaign, about 40,000 bags were donated for their project, with Yankee Candle donating 10,000 candles.
The free bags and candles were quickly scooped up on Sunday in a couple of hours with many people offering cash donations that could help fund the project in the future.
“I want to do it every year,” Russo said. “We don’t ever want to forget.”