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Visitors attend first funerals in Newtown, relieved own children are safe

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2012

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Gene Zingaro held his 11-year-old son’s hand as they walked down the streets of the historic district on Monday, moments after paying respects to one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

His son was clad in a gray T-shirt emblazoned with "Newtown Wrestling," the young boy’s tribute to 6-year-old Jack Pinto, a wrestler, football lover and one of the two 6-year-olds to be laid to rest Monday — the first of many funerals to come in the days ahead.

Like the thousands of others who have made the pilgrimage to this town to mourn, Mr. Zingaro struggles to comprehend how the Pintos and other families of the fallen can recover from the horror visited upon them, and remains thankful his son — who attends another nearby elementary school — was spared.

"We didn't have blood on our door that day. For some reason, it passed us over," he said, echoing the sentiments of many of the grief-stricken in Newtown, who realize the events at Sandy Hook could've taken place at their child's school, that their son or daughter easily could have met the same fate as the 20 children and seven adults killed by Adam Lanza.

The shooting has forever changed this town and the people who inhabit it. There is a clear line now, marking the day when everything changed.

"Life will be 'Before' and 'After' Friday," said Mr. Zingaro, a lawyer.

The Zingaros were just two of the hundreds who braved the cold and the rain to say goodbye to Jack Pinto, lining up around the small funeral home where the little boy’s body lay Monday.

Inside, the funeral program bore a verse from the Book of Revelation: "God shall wipe away all tears. There shall be no more death. Neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain."

Across town, 6-year-old Noah Pozner also was buried. Described by his family as "whip-smart," a fan of Mario Bros. video games and an animal enthusiast, he is survived by several brothers and sisters, including twin, Arielle. She also attends Sandy Hook but escaped the Friday massacre — an attack so savage that local officials aren't sure if the school building where it happened will ever be reopened.

"If Noah had not been taken from us, he would have become a great man. He would been a wonderful husband and a loving father," his uncle Alexis Haller told mourners, according to remarks provided to the media.

"It is unspeakably tragic that none of us can bring Noah back. We would go to the ends of the Earth to do so, but none of us can. What we can do is carry Noah within us, always. We can remember the joy he brought to us. We can hold his memory close to our hearts. We can treasure him forever," Mr. Haller said.

The stress and anguish of the last three days was felt in communities across the country Monday, as school administrators warily reopened amid increased patrols and security.

"It’s going to be a tough day," said Richard Cantlupe, an American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla., about 50 miles north of Miami. "This was like our 9/11 for schoolteachers."

Within the first hours of classes starting Monday, there were already reports of schools in several states on lockdown and police officers responding to potentially suspicious incidents.

Schools in nearby Ridgefield, Conn., were locked down after a motorist reported seeing a man with a rifle on his back. Police cleared the area by 11:15 a.m., and the person appears to have been a man carrying a black umbrella that resembled a sword, according to multiple media reports.

The initial panic was reminiscent of Sunday afternoon at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, when churchgoers had to flee noon Mass after a man phoned in a "threat of violence." The incident remains under investigation.

The routine task of dropping off children at school took on new meaning for many parents.

"Taking my son to school today had a different spin on it. If I could've stood in front of his school in uniform all day, I would have," said Ken Pires, a deputy with the Franklin County, Mass., Sheriff's Department.

Like so many others, he came to Newtown to not only pay his respects, but to thank God that his family was spared such an unimaginable loss. Dressed in full uniform, Deputy Pires carried a small teddy bear through the streets of Newtown toward a growing memorial at the community Christmas tree.

He paused for a moment, eyes closed, then slowly knelt and placed the bear beside the thousands of other stuffed animals, toys, candles, handwritten notes and photographs left at the memorial by the people of Newtown and also by those who have come from hours away.

"I’ve got a 9-year-old. It could’ve been my son's school," he said, equal measures of anguish and relief in his voice.

Across from Newtown's Christmas tree memorial stood husband and wife Leigh Perry and Tino Diotalevi, who traveled from nearby Seymour, Conn., to pay tribute to the fallen and to pray with those struggling to cope.

They understood, as everyone in this town does, that the true depth of grief and pain is yet to come for those survivors still in shock.

They held handmade signs, inviting the mourners to stop and seek God's help.

"You can pray for yourself, but you don't really get rid of your grief and sorrow until you pray for and with others," Mrs. Perry said, her thoughts then turning to her reaction on Friday when she first heard news of the shooting.

"When you're a parent, it hits you right in the gut,” she said. "It just made me sick."

Sandy Hook remains closed indefinitely, but Newtown's other schools are set to reopen Tuesday.

Plans are being made to eventually relocate the students and staff of Sandy Hook to another school that had been unused because of consolidation. Sandy Hook's desks are now being moved to Chalk Hill school in neighboring Monroe, which is expected to be ready for classes within days — though it’s still unclear when Sandy Hook students will resume their schooling.

In the meanwhile, families are focused on healing.

"We're just now getting ready to talk to our son about who was killed," said Robert Licata, the father of a student who escaped harm during the shooting. "He's not even there yet."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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