Six months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre shattered the small-town sense of calm and security residents cherished, Newtown is recovering, but the community still grieves.
“Everyone says it’s something that gets easier with time, but I think it gets easier when you lose somebody who was sick,” said Jillian Soto, whose sister, teacher Victoria Soto, was killed in the Dec. 14 shootings. “When somebody is taken from you so suddenly, who is brutally murdered, shot multiple times, I don’t think that gets easier. It’s something that will haunt us for the rest of our lives.”
In some ways Newtown seems to have returned to business as usual. The makeshift memorial signs that once lined main roads have been replaced. But green ribbons on lapels, bumper stickers and the “We Are Sandy Hook. We Choose Love” signs displayed at gas stations, in storefront windows and on bulletin boards in town buildings serve as a constant reminder of the day Newtown will never forget.
Resident David Freedman said that “every time the number 14 comes up, it’s like a light switch.”
Ceremonies were held Friday throughout Newtown to mark honor the victims on the six-month anniversary of their deaths. Parents whose children mourn the loss of their friends said they have struggled to respond to questions they themselves cannot answer. Despite their own grief, they have helped their children move forward. “Children are starting to play and laugh and be kids again,” said Carrie Battaglia, a mother of three.
This weekend marks the official launch of a group formed days after the shooting to provide long-term support for Newtown’s children. Named for victim Benjamin Wheeler, Ben’s Lighthouse will hold its first event Saturday: a festival. “Never before have so many thousands of children been victimized by a single event,” said Rick Haylon, chairman of the organization. He said there are “a lot of children in Newtown who need to remember Newtown as more than one bad moment.”
Some of those family members traveled to Washington earlier in the week to renew pleas to enact stricter federal gun laws, meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
“I want those 41 senators voted out,” said resident Susan Ludwig, referring to the lawmakers who voted against a bipartisan measure to expand background checks. Ludwig, the mother of a first-grader at Sandy Hook, described herself as a “single-issue voter” — committed to preventing a tragedy like the one her town experienced. She said, “It’s heartbreaking every day. Every single day.”