NEWTOWN, Conn. -- This shattered town prepared on Monday to begin burying the dead from one of the country's worst mass shootings as the nation fought to overcome days of anguish.
Christmas decorations have given way to impromptu roadside memorials leading in and out of this western Connecticut town. One such commemoration featured 26 tiny U.S. flags with a candle in front of each, symbolizing those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning when a gunman, identified as Adam Lanza, forced his way into the building and began firing.
The town prepared to bury the first of the 20 first-graders who were shot many times, some at close range. They were Jack Pinto, 6, a New York Giants football fan, and Noah Pozner,
also 6, who liked to tinker.
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"He was just a really lively, smart kid," Noah's uncle Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Wash, told reporters. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."
In the town of Ridgefield, about 20 miles away, police said they were investigating reports of a suspicious person at the Branchville train station and placed all local schools on lockdown.
Authorities, along with a K-9 unit, were canvassing the area after receiving a report of a man with an unknown item slung over his back, officials said.
Investigators in Newtown continued their efforts to understand the Friday morning rampage that began when Lanza killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, in their home, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance told reporters at the televised morning briefing.
"We are working 24 hours a day and will continue to do so indefinitely to answer questions about how and why this occurred," state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance told reporters at the televised morning briefing. "There are many witnesses that we need to interview."
Among those witnesses are two injured survivors of the attack, he said. Child witnesses may also be interviewed.
"It's a very, very tender issue. Any interviews with any children will be done with professionals, with parents, and with investigators where appropriate," Vance said.
Police will also seek to answer, if possible, Lanza's motive. Officials were also examining damaged computer gear seeking clues.
"We will go back to the date of birth and answer every single question," Vance said.
Vance also pledged that police will investigate any other threats, including the fake bomb scare phoned in to authorities on Sunday.
Schools remained closed in Newtown, even as other students returned to classes in Connecticut. Sandy Hook Elementary will likely be closed for months, Vance said. Students at Sandy Hook are expected to go to a school in a nearby town for the foreseeable future.
The Lanza home will also be the site of extended investigations, Vance said.
The parking lot at Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in the center of town was nearly full during morning Mass. In the sanctuary, which is usually dotted with a few dedicated worshipers on a Monday morning, more than 100 people prayed in the pews.
The congregation lost eight children in the shooting on Friday.
It was the week before Christmas, so three of the four Advent candles were lighted at the front of the church, in anticipation of the holiday. An additional 26 white candles were lighted on the front of the altar for the Mass, one for each of those from the school who died on Friday.
Father Luke Suarez, a new priest who was recently ordained, led the service on Monday morning. Other members of the church's clergy were occupied with counseling families and helping make arrangements for three funerals scheduled to be held at the large brick church this week.
Brian Wallace, spokesman for the diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. which oversees 83 parishes, including Saint Rose of Lima, said that the Saint Rose church will be arranging eight funerals in the coming weeks.
A week before Christmas, one of the busiest times of the year, funeral services are planned at the church for Jessica Rekos on Tuesday, Daniel Gerard Barden on Wednesday and Catherine Violet Hubbard on Thursday.
"We'll get by, the people will get by," said Wallace.
Across the state and nation, schoolchildren began returning to classrooms as educators grappled with how to deal with what seems inexplicable.
Most schools in Connecticut had extra police and special police guards to assure parents worried about security and will offer a special curriculum to help teachers deal with curious and often frightened pupils.
"In many instances, teachers will want to discuss the events because they are so recent and so significant, but they won't necessarily know how to go about it," Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said.
It was more than just this town and state that were grieving and wondering how to deal with the issue. The New York Stock Exchange began its day on Monday with a moment of silence to commemorate events. Teachers across the nation prepared themselves to be strong for their students and for questions and fears they would face in the classroom.
"It's going to be a tough day," Richard Cantlupe, an American history teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland, Fla. told the Associated Press. "This was like our 9/11 for schoolteachers."