SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And back to our story from Newtown, Connecticut. Newtown is a white-collar community about an hour and a half northeast of New York City. But the normal peace and quiet in that area has been shattered by yesterday's shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and residents are struggling to try to make sense of what happened. NPR's Jim Zarroli spoke with people in Newtown and has this report.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Hours after the shootings that left so many people dead, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church opened its doors for a prayer vigil.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONGREGATION: (Singing) (unintelligible)
ZARROLI: People filed through the streets past houses decorated with Christmas lights. Among the mourners was eight-year-old James Benvenuti, who attends Sandy Hook Elementary School. Last night, as his mother stood next to him, he talked about what had happened. He and his classmates had to cower inside a classroom while the shootings took place.
JAMES BENVENUTI: I went to my classroom just, like, 'cause my teacher said get in the corner. Let's not talk about it. She called the cops like five times, and the other teacher called two times and we were being quiet for, like, an hour and then the cops came.
ZARROLI: All over Newtown a sense of unreality hung in the air. Thirty-five-year-old Amy Headford attended Sandy Hook as a child and her son goes to a nursery school right next door it. When the shootings occurred, she ran to get him. In a close-knit town like Newtown, she said what happened could only be described as heartbreaking.
AMY HEADFORD: It's so close that, I mean, I'm just lost for words right now. I really am. Like, to imagine, like, if it were a year later, he would be in school. I just, you know, thank God he is four and not five.
ZARROLI: By yesterday afternoon most people were still trying to absorb what had taken place. Newtown looks like a New England village, but it's really a small suburb on the northern fringes of affluent Fairfield County. It's not very large and people tend to be one or two degrees of separation from each other. Bob Haskins knew some people who worked at Sandy Hook, and he knew a lot of parents whose kids went there. Like a lot of residents yesterday, he was waiting to hear the grim news about who had died.
BOB HASKINS: They've been very circumspect about, you know, who the victims were. So at the end of the day, again, being such a close-knit community, our expectation is, is that, you know, we'll know most of the victims.
ZARROLI: Haskins said Newtown is a great place to live and raise your kids, and he didn't know that shootings would change that. They were an isolated incident that could have happened anywhere, he said. But there is no question that the killings will leave the town scarred. The United Methodist Church opened its doors on yesterday as a kind of sanctuary so people who wanted could come to pray. All day, a smattering of people showed up. Susan Kalbaugh and her daughter who attend the church were standing at the entrance. Kalbaugh used to work at Sandy Hook and she said she knew everyone there.
SUSAN KALBAUGH: I worked there for eight years. Phenomenal school. Phenomenal teachers. Terrific, I mean, the best school ever. It's just sad that something like this had to happen.
ZARROLI: As Kalbaugh spoke, she turned away several times unable to finish her sentences. This has always been a homey, serene place, she said. Now, Newtown has joined the ranks of those places where terrible crimes of violence have suddenly inexplicably erupted. And a lot of its residents are still trying to figure out how it happened. Jim Zarroli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.