NEWTOWN, Conn. – A bell at St. Rose of Lima Church tolled 26 times Thursday morning, five years to the moments when a gunman took the lives of 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, forever scarring the Fairfield County town.
Parishioners leaving a morning mass paused to reflect as each tone was struck.
Officials in Newtown planned a day of mostly private reflection to mark the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
In a message to parishioners, the Rev. Robert Weiss wrote that Dec. 14, 2012, "is a day of sadness for all of us."
"Tears still well up as we recall the horrible tragedy of that day," he wrote.
A woman asked for prayers for teachers and students at school and that they be kept safe. A police officer stepped inside the church and stood at the back of the room during mass for a few minutes.
Outside the church, students were arriving at St. Rose School, next door to the church. A Newtown police car was in the parking lot.
Town offices were closed from 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. for a moment of silence to remember the victims.
The scene at the Sandy Hook firehouse was calm compared to the nightmare of five years ago, when hundreds of people frantically gathered, looking for their children and seeking information.
Several dozen Christmas trees with a light dusting of snow leaned in front of the building for sale for a fundraiser. The firehouse roof had 26 stars on it, six larger ones and 20 smaller ones.
Cars were traveling up Dickinson Drive to the rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School, which opened last year on the same site. The white sign with black lettering that featured prominently in many photographs from the day of the shootings remains standing.
Sandy Hook's main commercial area was quiet. The small shops were open, but there were few people around. At a photo exhibit at Newtown's town hall, people trickled in to view photos of the 26 victims before quietly leaving.
The Rev. Lori Miller of Newtown United Methodist Church opened the church to those who needed a place to reflect or pray. "The milestones are difficult years," she said of the anniversary.
Some families leave town on Dec. 14 to escape the memories and observances.
In the evening, memorial services were held at churches in Newtown as well as several in other corners of the state. Gov. Dannel Malloy ordered all flags to be at half-staff.
"Though we will never know the full measure of sorrow experienced by the families who lost loved ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we can let them know that we stand with them," Malloy wrote in a tweet Thursday.