Threat darkens reopening of schools in Newtown

4:41 PM, Dec 18, 2012   |    comments
Art teacher Eric Mueller sets up 27 wooden angel cut-outs in memory of the victims of the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY
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by Yamiche Alcindor, USA TODAY

NEWTOWN, Conn. - An undisclosed threat forced district officials to keep an elementary school here closed Tuesday, four days after one of the most brutal mass murders in U.S. history took place at another local school.

Tuesday marked the first day of classes for district students since 20-year-old Adam Lanza's attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School left 20 students and six adults dead. Sandy Hook will remain closed indefinitely, and its students will resume classes at a school in a nearby town.

Students at Head O'Meadow Elementary School also were told to stay home Tuesday because of the threat, though no details were released.

WFSB-TV in Hartford reported that the principal sent a note to parents:

"As was predicted by the police that there would be some threats, the police were prepared and have us in lockdown, which is our normal procedure. Due to the situation, students will not come to school today. Please make arrangements to keep them home. All-Star has been notified and will return any students already picked up."

Outside the school, Linda Mitchell, 64, found it terrifying that someone may have called in a threat. Her 5-year-old granddaughter attends kindergarten at Head O'Meadow.

"I'm so sorry that people have to copy cat or do whatever it is they feel they have to do to keep this in some horrible context," she said outside the school. "It makes it difficult for people to try to move on."

All other schools in town reopened on Tuesday with a two-hour delay. Just after dawn, police cars were already parked outside several schools with signs that read "No media beyond this point."

"I don't think we're going to have much class today," said sophomore Tate Schwab, 15. "I know a lot of people who are nervous to be back in school. A lot of people don't want to be here. They feel like it's wrong."At Newtown High School, several police cars circled the building as an officer at the school's entrance directed traffic. A steady stream of cars and school buses began arriving at 8:30 a.m. for classes that began almost an hour later.

Schwab said he was happy to be back in school and looked forward to seeing friends. He isn't concerned for his safety.

Schwab said he didn't know any of the victims but said his mother has spent days crying about the incident -- his 3-year-old sister would have started at Sandy Hook Elementary next year.

As for him, the teen said he is still trying to process the reality of the tragedy. "It feels surreal -- like it didn't happen here."

Suzy DeYoung said her 15-year-old son is going back to the high school.

"I think he wants to go back," she said. "If he told me he wants to stay home, I'd let him stay home. I think going back to a routine is a good idea; at least that's what I hear from professionals."

The extra security made Mike Stierle, 16, a Newtown High School sophomore, feel safer than ever, he said.

"My neighbor up the street, her kid didn't come back," he said. "The initial grief was definitely the hardest part."

He added that his school's counselors will be important in helping students, most of whom will know someone affected, get through the day.

For senior Caroline Kingsley, 17, coming back was unnerving. She spent the past few days consoling her best friend who was directly affected by the shooting.

"I'm really scared to come back," Kingsley said. "I don't know what to expect. But being the town we are, I know we'll be able to get through it."

Outside at least one school, the talk turned to politics as parents dropped off their children.

Peter Muckell, 52, dropped off his eight-year-old daughter Shannon for third grade classes at Hawley School.

"I hope this is a tipping point," he said. "I can't imagine why anyone would want these assault rifles. It doesn't make sense to me."

Muckell is a bow hunter who owns a party rental shop.After the shooting, he said he began hoping that lawmakers would move past problems like the fiscal cliff and have talks about gun reform.

He hopes change will make places like Newtown safer and give comfort to parents like him who has no choice but to send his little girl to school.

While Shannon Muckell didn't seem scared after spending the weekend on play dates with friends, Peter Muckell said it was harder to drop her off this morning.

"I told her 'I love you,' and kissed her," Muckell said. "I told her teacher to take care of these guys."

There are four funerals scheduled for victims Tuesday. Students Jessica Rekos, Charlotte Bacon, both 6, Daniel Barden, 7, and teacher Victoria Soto, 27, will all be memorialized.

Hundreds of mourners said their goodbyes on Monday to first-graders Jack Pinto, who was buried in a New York Giants jersey, and Noah Pozner, who loved animals and video games and liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. Noah's twin sister, Arielle, was in another classroom and survived.

The funeral for Noah, the youngest child to be killed, was held at a Jewish funeral home in Fairfield, Conn., on a street lined with clusters of white balloons, which have become something of a symbol of grief for the children who died. On a tree outside the white clapboard house was a green hand-lettered sign that read, "Our hearts are with you Noah."

Well-wishers placed two teddy bears, a bouquet of white flowers and a single red rose at the base of a maple tree in front of the funeral home.

Rabbi Edgar Gluck, who attended the service, said the first person to speak was Noah's mother, Veronique, who told mourners that her son's ambition when he grew up was to either be director of a plant that makes tacos -- because that was his favorite food -- or to be a doctor.

In a statement, the Pozner family said they were overwhelmed and grateful for all the support "from people from all walks of life, from far and near."

"Noah, his classmates and the heroic teachers who gave their lives trying to protect them are with God in heaven," the statement said. "Now it's our responsibility to bring heaven down to earth -- act by act, good deed by good deed, until we reach the day when no family will need to endure grief and sorrow, the day we reach a world filled with goodness and light.''

Buried in a white No. 80 New York Giants jersey, Jack held a small metal cross and a stuffed animal in his right hand. On his left side lay a ceramic angel and another gray stuffed animal.

The sadness inside was palpable as parents consoled children whose small bodies shook with tears. Mourners in three rooms strained to hear as several people got up to tell stories about the boy.

On a table at the entrance, mourners used colored markers to write messages to the family on several white poster boards bearing images of Jack. A small gold-and-navy Newtown football helmet read, "Jack God bless you."

Dark-green memorial cards with a photo of Jack and an image of a baseball were handed out to mourners.

Outside, 12 people sang Amazing Grace and It Is Well With My Soul for hours in the rain as people waited to enter.

One mourner, Gwendolyn Glover, said that Jack was in an open casket and that the service was a message of comfort and protection, particularly for other children.

"The message was: You're secure now. The worst is over," she said.

Contributing: Associated Press

Copyright 2012

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