Newtown — The sidewalk on this little street corner, just down the hill from Sandy Hook Elementary School, is so overrun with mementos that bystanders have been pushed onto the road.
Mourners have left bouquets of roses, candles and posters with words of prayer — and the names of 27 victims. Children have tucked stuffed animals and other toys among the cluster of decorated wreaths and little Christmas trees.
And families, meeting for the first time, embrace each other.
“You’re from New Milford, too!” said Andrea DiMichele. Her face broke into a smile as she hugged another woman who had brought silver, angel-shaped Christmas ornaments to hang on the trees and wreaths.
DiMichele placed roses, a teddy bear and a candle in the makeshift memorial. She said her aunt lives in Newtown, and a friend is a crisis counselor who works with those directly affected by Friday’s tragedy.
“He can’t tell me too much,” she said of her friend. “He just said it was horrific … it’s heartbreaking. He’s never seen anything like this.”
DiMichele felt connected to the shooting in another way: Her 18-year-old son, studying criminal justice in college, was an intern at Newtown’s police department.
“So when he’s watching the television, he recognizes the faces,” she said. “In some ways, you feel close to it.”
But it was clear that many of the hundreds of people streaming into the center of Newtown — a small shopping area called Sandy Hook Village — were not there because they knew anyone who was directly affected when 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at the elementary school Friday.
Holly Fracassi brought her 8-month-old little boy, Nico, from the nearby town of Ridgefield. Tears filled her eyes as she watched the sidewalk fill up at the intersection of Riverside and Church Hill roads.
“I think I had to come just to find some peace, and I just felt like I had to pay my respects, to those 20 little kids,” she said, her voice breaking.
Fracassi spoke fondly of her neighborhood and the surrounding area, which she moved to in 2000 after living in the Bronx.
“There’s a great sense of community, and it’s a great place to raise kids,” she said, as Nico wiggled in her arms.
“Right?” she asked him. “Yes. You don’t know that yet.”
John Leonard took time off from his remodeling job to drive from Wallingford with his 4-year-old daughter, Holly. Leonard said he used to live in Danbury, and that his older daughter had attended Rogers Park Middle School, where Dawn Hochsprung had worked. Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, died Friday trying to stop the shooter.
“She always went the extra step, you know,” Leonard said of Hochsprung. “Always to help another child … selflessly. That’s how I try to live my life, selfless.”
As the size of the monument grew throughout the day, some mourners did talk about issues such as gun control and mental health treatment. Fracassi said the tragedy had made her think seriously about whether her only son would be safe in school, adding that she was considering home-schooling Nico when he is old enough.
But that was not the focus of conversation in Sandy Hook Village Monday.
“It’s overwhelming, and it’s beautiful,” said Fracassi, surrounded by the little trees, wreaths and stuffed animals among flickering candles. “And it shouldn’t have to be.”