NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) – Opening a long and almost unbearable procession of grief, Newtown began laying its dead to rest Monday, holding funerals for two 6-year-old boys – one a football fan who was buried in a New York Giants jersey and one whose twin sister survived the rampage.
Two funeral homes filled with mourners for Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, the first of the 20 children killed in last week’s school massacre to receive funerals. The gunman also killed six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, and his mother in her home, before committing suicide.
A rabbi presided at Noah’s service, and in keeping with Jewish tradition, the boy was laid to rest in a simple brown wooden casket with a Star of David on it.
“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,” Noah’s uncle, Alexis Haller, told mourners, according to remarks he provided to The Associated Press. Both services were closed to the news media.
Noah’s twin, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom, survived the killing frenzy by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, an attack so horrifying that authorities could not say three days later whether the school would ever reopen.
Newtown, a community of 27,000 people, will face many more funerals over the next few days, just as other towns are getting ready for the holidays.
“I feel like we have to get back to normal, but I don’t know if there is normal anymore,” said Kim Camputo, mother of two children, 5 and 10, who attend a different school. “I’ll definitely be dropping them off and picking them up myself for a while.”
Beyond Newtown, parents nervously sent their children back to class in a country deeply shaken by the attack, and in a measure of how the tragedy has put people on edge, schools were locked down in at least four places.
As investigators worked to figure out what drove Lanza to lash out with such fury — and why he singled out the school — federal agents said he had fired guns at shooting ranges over the past several years but there was no evidence he did so recently as practice for the rampage.
At Jack’s Christian service, hymns rang out from inside the funeral home, where the boy lay in an open casket in the Giants’ star wide receiver Victor Cruz’s No. 80 jersey. Jack was among the youngest members of a youth wrestling association in Newtown, and dozens of little boys turned up at the service in gray Newtown Wrestling T-shirts.
Ten-year-old Luke Wellman remembered a boy who loved football and wrestling and worshipped Cruz, who played in Sunday’s game with “Jack Pinto ‘My Hero’” written on one of his cleats.
Luke said: “I’m here to support my teammate and friend.”
A mourner, Gwendolyn Glover, said the service carried a message of comfort and protection, particularly for other children. “The message was: You’re secure now. The worst is over,” she said.
At Noah’s funeral, the boy was described a smart, funny and mischievous child who loved animals, Mario Brothers video games and tacos.
“I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room,” his mother, Veronique Pozner, told mourners, according to Haller.
“Most of all, I will miss your visions of your future. You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos,” she said, evoking laughter from the crowd.
She closed by saying: “Momma loves you, little man.”
At both funeral homes, as around the country, people wrestled with what steps could and should be taken to prevent something like the massacre from happening again.
“If people want to go hunting, a single-shot rifle does the job, and that does the job to protect your home, too. If you need more than that, I don’t know what to say,” Ray DiStephan said outside Noah’s funeral.
He added: “I don’t want to see my kids go to schools that become maximum-security fortresses. That’s not the world I want to live in, and that’s not the world I want to raise them in.”
Around the country, school systems asked police departments to increase patrols Monday and sent messages to parents outlining safety procedures. Teachers steeled themselves for their students’ questions and fears.
Richard Cantlupe, an American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla., described the Connecticut rampage as “our 9/11 for schoolteachers.”
Anxiety ran high enough in Ridgefield, Conn., about 20 miles from Newtown, that officials ordered a lockdown at schools after a person deemed suspicious was seen at a train station. Two schools were locked down in South Burlington, Vt., because of an unspecified threat.
Three schools in the Tampa, Fla., area did the same after a bullet was found on the floor of a school bus, and a New Hampshire high school went into emergency mode after an administrator heard a loud bang. A police search found nothing suspicious.
Meanwhile, the outlines of a national debate on gun control began to take shape. At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution.”
Carney did not offer specific proposals or a timeline. He said President Barack Obama will meet with law enforcement officials and mental health professionals in coming weeks.
Lanza is believed to have used a Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle, a civilian version of the military’s M-16. It is similar to the weapon used in a recent shopping mall shooting in Oregon and other deadly attacks around the U.S. Versions of the AR-15 were outlawed in this country under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the law expired in 2004.
At least one senator, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia, said Monday that the attack in Newtown has led him to rethink his opposition to the ban on assault weapons.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who is an avid hunter and lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, said it is time to move beyond the political rhetoric and begin an honest discussion about reasonable restrictions on guns.
He added: “This is bigger than just about guns. It’s about how we treat people with mental illness, how we intervene, how we get them the care they need, how we protect our schools. It’s just so sad.”
Authorities say Lanza shot his mother, Nancy Lanza, at their home and then took her car and some of her guns to the school, where he broke in and opened fire. A Connecticut official said the mother, a gun enthusiast who practiced at shooting ranges, was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
Lanza was wearing all black, with an olive-drag utility vest with lots of pockets, during the attack.
Investigators have found no letters or diaries that could explain the rampage.
Debora Seifert, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said both Lanza and his mother fired at shooting ranges, and also visited ranges together. “We do not have any indication at this time that the shooter engaged in shooting activities in the past six months,” Seifert told the AP.
In Newtown, classes were canceled Monday, and the town’s other schools were to reopen Tuesday. The district made plans to send surviving Sandy Hook students to a former middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe.
Sandy Hook desks are being taken to the Chalk Hill school in Monroe, empty since town schools consolidated last year, and tradesmen are donating their services to get the school ready within a matter of days.
“These are innocent children that need to be put on the right path again,” Monroe police Lt. Brian McCauley said.
With Sandy Hook Elementary still designated a crime scene, state police Lt. Paul Vance said it could be months before police turn the school back over to the district. The people of Newtown were not ready to address its future.
“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.”
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers John Christoffersen, Ben Feller, Adam Geller, Jim Kuhnhenn and Michael Melia in Newtown; David Collins in Hartford, Conn.; Brian Skoloff in Phoenix; and Anne Flaherty in Washington.