December 21, 2012

First responders to Newtown school bear scars

As more victims are buried, police and firefighters struggle with what they saw at Sandy Hook.

By MICHAEL MELIA The Associated Press

NEWTOWN, Conn. - While the people of Newtown do their best to cope with loss and preserve the memories of their loved ones, another class of residents is also finding it difficult to move on: the emergency responders who saw firsthand the terrible aftermath of last week's school shooting.

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The Associated Press A boy sits outside a church before the memorial service for Lauren Rousseau in Danbury, Conn., on Thursday. Rousseau, 30, was one of the 26 teachers and children shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday.

Photos by The Associated Press

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While mourners gather outside of Trinity Episcopal Church on Thursday during funeral services for Benjamin Andrew Wheeler, one of the students killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last week, a hearse with another shooting victim passes by.

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Firefighter Peter Barresi was driving through Newtown on Friday when police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced toward his oldest son's elementary school. After he was sent to Sandy Hook school himself, he saw things that will stay with him forever.

With anguished parents searching for their children, he prepared to receive the wounded, but a paramedic came back empty-handed, underscoring the totality of the massacre.

Barresi, whose son escaped unharmed, later discovered that among the 26 dead were children who played baseball with his son and had come to his house for birthday parties.

"For some of us, it's fairly difficult," said Barresi of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Co. "Fortunately most of us did not go in."

Newtown and environs weathered a fourth day of funerals Thursday, six days after a 20-year-old gunman killed his mother at home, 20 children and six adults at the school and himself for reasons still unknown. Mourners laid to rest Catherine Hubbard, Benjamin Wheeler, Jesse Lewis and Allison Wyatt, all 6 years old; and Grace McDonnell, 7.

A service was held in Katonah, N.Y., for teacher Anne Marie Murphy, 52, who authorities believe helped shield some of her students from the rain of bullets. Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan compared her to Jesus.

"Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends," Dolan said. "Like Jesus, Annie's life and death brings light, truth, goodness and love to a world often shrouded in darkness, evil, selfishness and death."

A bell tolled Thursday at Newtown's St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church at the funeral for Catherine, who her family said would be remembered for her passion for animals and her constant smile.

Trinity Episcopal church on Main Street was filled for the funeral for Benjamin, described as a budding musician and Beatles fan. His service included a rendition of "Here Comes the Sun." About two dozen Boy Scout leaders lined the front pathway to the church in honor of the former Cub Scout.

In downtown Danbury, mourners filed into the white-pillared First Congregational Church for a memorial service for 30-year-old teacher Lauren Rousseau.

Friends wept at the altar as they remembered the spirited, hardworking, sunny-natured woman who brightened their lives with silliness and gave them all nicknames.

The gunman's mother, Nancy Lanza, also was laid to rest Thursday, in a private ceremony at an undisclosed location in tiny Kingston, N.H., where she used to live. About 25 family members attended, the town's police chief said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has asked people across Connecticut to observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. Friday, which will mark a week since the shootings. Places of worship and buildings with bells have been asked to ring them 26 times, for the victims at the school.

While family, friends and even strangers weep, members of the emergency forces that responded to the shooting, many of them volunteers, are wrestling with frustration, guilt and anguish as they receive counseling from a state intervention team to help them deal with the horrors they saw and heard.

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