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Newtown says final goodbyes to more rampage victims

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 9:45 a.m. CST
Caption
(Photo by Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant/MCT)
Mourners console each other after a funeral service for teacher Victoria Soto at Lordship Community Church in Stratford, Connecticut, on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. Soto was one of the teachers killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

(MCT) — NEWTOWN, Conn. — With a lingering gloom in the air, the anguished community of Newtown said final goodbyes Wednesday to more victims of Friday’s deadly rampage inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Mourners said goodbye to Charlotte Helen Bacon, who loved tae kwon do and the color pink and who, at 6 years old, could hold her own talking with adults.

And to Caroline Phoebe Previdi, a 7-year-old with a huge grin who some said looked liked Boo, the angelic character from the animated movie “Monsters, Inc.”

And to Daniel Gerard Barden, also 7, who loved making s’mores and playing drums in a band with his older brother and sister.

They were among 20 first-graders, all 6 and 7 years old, shot to death in a burst of violence Friday morning. Six educators, including Lauren Rousseau — Charlotte, Caroline and Daniel’s teacher — also were killed.

As solemn funeral processions moved through Newtown on Wednesday — with so many more still to come — mourners also gathered in Stratford to honor slain first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who called her students “my kids” and is credited with saving many of their lives by hiding them in a closet as the gunman closed in.

The Lordship Community Church in Stratford overflowed with friends, relatives and teachers from throughout the state, and dozens sat on chairs outside and listened over loudspeakers.

Soto, 27, had taught at Sandy Hook Elementary for five years. Her cousin, James Wiltsie, a Marine, called her “the rock” of the family and the inspiration for her siblings to attend college. Soto herself was pursuing a master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University.

Guided by a phalanx of Stratford police cruisers and motorcycle officers from several area departments, Soto’s long funeral procession snaked from the Lordship area of town into Union Cemetery in Stratford Center, where the wail of bagpipes filled the air.

The procession passed under an arch created by two Stratford Fire Department ladder trucks supporting a giant American flag that flapped and billowed in the wind. A line of firefighters saluted as the hearse went past.

Also Wednesday, hundreds attended a wake in Woodbury for Dawn L. Hochsprung, the revered principal of Sandy Hook Elementary. Among them were U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Sen.-elect Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Earlier, Duncan had sent a video message to the educators of Sandy Hook Elementary, expressing his gratitude for their heroism.

The line for Hochsprung’s calling hours stretched hundreds of yards beyond the Munson-Lovetere funeral home. Outside, the word “hope” was spelled out in white bags with small candles burning inside. A large American flag hung just above the visitors as they entered the small funeral home.

Grief-stricken visitors from outside Newtown continued to stream into the community Wednesday, many praying beside a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals and flower bouquets and candles in the center of Sandy Hook.

“It is hard to see something so tragic happen to such a loving and welcoming town,” said Morgan Dowd, a freshman at the Gunnery, a preparatory school in Washington, Conn., who has visited family friends in Newtown since she was a little girl.

Dowd and a friend, Carley Ferris, a junior at Newtown High School, also stopped at a memorial at the entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary. They were overcome by the sight of a victim’s funeral procession driving by the school’s entrance.

“This is something I’ll never forget,” Dowd said. “This is so overwhelming.”

The lingering pain in town has also led to growing frustration with what for some feels like an occupation of the town by journalists.

“Would you just go home?” a woman in a car said several times as she drove past a throng of reporters and photographers massed across the street from St. Rose of Lima Church in anticipation of Daniel Barden’s funeral.

A large “No Press” sign, yellow caution tape and police officers patrolling the perimeter of the church grounds made it clear that the media were not welcome at the service.

At the calling hours for Hochsprung, drivers rolled down their car windows and swore at members of the media and repeated a familiar refrain.

“You’re all vultures,” yelled one driver outside the funeral home.

“People are coming in here asking if we have press repellent,” Cindy Hendy said as she worked the register at Newtown Hardware. “Residents here have had enough.”

Many of the complaints revolved around the accuracy of information and a feeling that the media were exploiting the tragedy and invading the privacy of grieving families. As he visited a burgeoning memorial in a vacant lot just off Exit 10 from I-84, Greg Malafronte of Shelton spoke of a front-page photograph of a funeral.

“Whoever posted that should issue an apology. That’s not fair to the family,” Malafronte said.

Steve Bigham, who grew up in Newtown and now lives in Southbury, was also at the memorial. Bigham, a former reporter with the Newtown Bee newspaper, said the media’s continued presence was a bit of a “Catch-22.”

“People are just fed up,” he said. “But I want people to come here because it’s a symbol of hope in the face of a horrible tragedy.”

———

(Courant staff writers Josh Kovner, Steven Goode and Matthew Conyers contributed to this story.)

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