NEWTOWN, Conn. Candlelight vigils and packed prayer services sprung up at neighborhood churches Friday evening to honor the 20 schoolchildren and six adults gunned down earlier that morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Conn. State Police Lt. Paul Lance said at an 8 p.m. news briefing that he was “cautiously optimistic” about positively identifying by Saturday the victims and alleged gunman, who major media outlets reported as 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
“From our professional experience, we’ve never seen anything like this,” he said, adding that investigators will be looking into the history of the gunman. “An investigation like this is a puzzle; we want to put this puzzle together.”
The Associated Press, citing unnamed sources, reported Lanza killed his mother—a teacher at the school and the 27th victim—at their nearby home then drove to the school where he opened fire in one or two classrooms before fatally shooting himself. A motivation was far from clear.
Two students from nearby St. Rose School shared their perspectives of the day’s horrors with the Press while walking to the small town’s Subway for a bite to eat shortly before a vigil service at St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church on Church Hill Road.
Both were in the church when sirens began shrieking and it and the neighboring school districts went into lockdown, they said.
“When we heard the sirens, we started praying the Rosary together,” said a 14-year-old 8th grader at the school. “I was very scared. You don’t expect this to happen.”
“It’s just so sad, my heart goes out to all of the victims,” he continued.
“Everybody’s friendly here,” said a 13-year-old student. “There are no strangers. No one expected this. We’re all in shock.”
Parents struggled to explain the horrific news to their children.
“I told her a very bad man did a very bad thing,” Dawn Ballard told the Press while walking with her young daughter to a nighttime memorial service at Newtown United Methodist Church, also on Church Hill Road.
The slayings, which rank as the second deadliest school shooting in national history, drew media from around the world, casting a grim light on the quaint, rural Christmas-ready New England town where this inexplicably dark event unfolded.
Local and state police and town and state officials held press briefings throughout the day at Treadwell Park, a recreation spot transformed from its Tiny Tots playground and tennis courts into the staging ground for a media frenzy.
Concerned parents gathered within Sandy Hook Volunteer firehouse for information regarding their children. Trucks covered in tarps and undercover police vehicles swarmed the area as the investigation continued overnight—and is not expected to be concluded anytime soon.
Down the road, Tom Brokaw sat beneath the lofty branches of the town’s Christmas tree, which was dressed in glowing multi-colored lights along the bank of an idyllic brook. Shops and lamp posts throughout the town were adorned with wreaths and garland, though few residents could be found; the streets were all lined with reporters.
Handmade signs along Main Street read: “Say A Prayer” and “God Bless the Families.”
With Jaclyn Gallucci reporting from Newtown, Conn.