December 14, 2012

Newtown: A special town shattered by tragedy

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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People arrive for a prayer service at Newtown United Methodist Church in the aftermath of a mass shooting at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into the school Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, a police officer leads two women and a child from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks)

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Scudder Smith agreed. "I was just down at the firehouse. Restaurants were sending in food," said Smith, publisher of the Newtown Bee, the weekly paper that has published since 1877.

He said Newtown is "getting bigger than the little country town that I grew up in. I've been here 77 years.... But it still has the feeling between neighbors that it always had."

The Bee had closed this week's edition — with front-page reports on the schools "performing at or above target," on vandalism at a cemetery, and other stories — when the first word of the shooting came in.

"We've been putting everything on our website. We were the first ones down there," Smith said. "We've had calls from Turkey, all over Europe."

A police scanner alerted the newsroom, and reporter Shannon Hicks said, "I listened long enough to figure out where this was unfolding and headed out." Her photo of terrified children being led across a school parking lot appeared around the world.

Asked about the town, Hicks said, "It's a good town. We have our issues" — squabbling over the local budget, police news and the like — "but this is not the kind of thing that's suposed to be one of them."

Standing by the cluttered antique wooden desk of the publisher, she looked down sadly. "I've already heard comparisons to Columbine," she said.

Folks here want to tell about the town that was here for 300 years before Friday's attack.

At the Bee, they mention how Halloween brings out so many children to Main Street houses — one was made into a "princess castle" this year, another for years had a three-story web and giant spider in front — that the paper has used clickers and counted more than 2,000 kids some years.

They mention the homely, simple things that might counter the horror.

"We have two garden clubs, and they get along, they don't hate each other," said Susan White, who checks the flagpole every day.

She laughed but then grew more serious, mentioning that her father was on the school board that authorized the building of the Sandy Hook school. "That was my school," she said.

Telling about an award her mother recently received for work on a 75-year-old scholarship fund in town, she said of the ceremony, "It was a Norman Rockwell moment."

And was this a Norman Rockwell town?

"We've got our ups and downs, but we're a very real town. 'Norman Rockwell' sounds like we're perfect... but we're not very different from any other town," she said.

And now, she added, "People will stick together. They have to."

 

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