— This town experienced an unfathomable tragedy on Friday and residents woke up Saturday hoping it was just a bad dream. But the realization is sinking in that 27 people, 20 of them mere schoolchildren, were indeed shot dead at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Residents of Newtown gathered Friday evening for religious services amid a prevailing mood of shock and horror. Alex Ortner is the father of two toddlers and says his heart goes out to the victims.
“At think that at any time like this, people lean on spirituality; they lean on anything to try to understand why something like this happens. I think at this stage now, it’s more of a shocking time than anything else. I don’t think people are really processing it properly yet.”
Six-year-old Emilie Parker, who was gunned down in Connecticut. (AP/Emilie Parker Fund)
The killings shook the picturesque and normally quiet town to its core. Alongside traditional holiday decorations, signs now call on people to be strong and to pray for victims of the tragedy.
Former school bus driver Marsha Moskowitz is in disbelief. She once drove at least two of the victims to school, and remembers driving the gunman when he was in middle school.
“I recall him to be quiet, reserved, and very shy. Pretty much stayed to himself on the bus.”
The killer, identified as 20-year old Adam Lanza, apparently obtained his weapons from the home of his mother, whom he also shot dead before driving in her car to the school. Connecticut State Police spokesman Paul Vance says Lanza forced his way into the building.
"We have established the point of entry. It was -- I can tell you, he was not voluntarily let into the school at all, that he forced his way into the school. But that's as far as we can go on that."
Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer rest at the base of a tree near the Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 17, 2012.
A student looks for a place to leave flowers at a makeshift memorial for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at the entrance of Newtown High School December 18, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
Barbara Wells of Shelton, Conn., holds her daughter Olivia, 3, as she pays her respects Dec. 17, 2012 at one of the makeshift memorials for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.
First Burials for Newtown Victims Amid Profound Sadness
Frank Kulick, adjusts a display of wooden crosses, and a Jewish Star of David, representing the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, on his front lawn in Newtown, Conn., December 17, 2012.
Mourners grieve at one of the makeshift memorials for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, December 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
Names of victims are displayed on a flag in the business area in Newtown, Connecticut, December 16, 2012.
A child's message rests with a memorial for shooting victims, December 16, 2012, in Newtown, Conn.
A memorial is seen along the road to Sandy Hook Elementary School a day after a mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, December 15, 2012.
A sign and a U.S. national flag are seen near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, Dec. 15, 2012.
This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows six-year-old Emilie Parker, who was gunned down in Friday's school shooting in Connecticut.
Robbie Parker, the father of six-year-old Emilie who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, speaks during a news conference on Dec. 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.
This undated photo shows Adam Lanza posing for a group photo of the technology club which appeared in the Newtown High School yearbook.
A man bows his head as he stands at a makeshift memorial, outside Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Connecticut, Dec. 15, 2012.
Elizabeth Bogdanoff, left, kisses her daughter Julia, 13, during a prayer service at St John's Episcopal Church on Dec. 15, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.
People grieve next to a makeshift memorial of flowers and balloons next to the Sandy Hook Elementary school sign in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Dec. 15, 2012.
A woman covers her mouth as others look on stand near candles outside Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church near Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
A young girl is given a blanket after being evacuated from Sandy Hook Elementary School following a shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Dec.14, 2012.
As the nation struggles to understand how the tragedy could have occurred, Lawrence Palinkas, Professor of Social Work at the University of Southern California, notes the reason why so many young Americans have become targets in mass killings is unknown.
“Largely because we still don't have enough data - surprisingly, given the increasing number of events. But generally when helpless populations are victimized like that, it's usually to send a message, and it's unfortunately a message of intense anger.”
As of now, no one knows the reason why Adam Lanza did what he did, and many residents of Newtown fear they never will.