Ev­ery­one pitch­ing in to help

New­town

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - Con­tin­ued from A

yet he and oth­ers work­ing at the store felt they hardly knew where they were Fri­day.

“A week or two ago,” he said in dis­be­lief, “we had the Christ­mas tree light­ing. There was singing.”

In nor­mal times, this is a place that marks the year with a com­mu­nity tree light­ing, a La­bor Day pa­rade run­ning past the Main Street ffag­pole in which it’s said ev­ery­one is ei­ther a par­tic­i­pant or spec­ta­tor or both, an an­nual fundrais­ing lob­ster din­ner at one of the five vol­un­teer fire com­pa­nies. It’s a place where a bene­fac­tor, Mary Haw­ley, do­nated the clas­si­cally de­signed town hall and the large, red-brick li­brary, both set among tow­er­ing oaks and maples. Part of one of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hep­burn come­dies was filmed on a town lake.

It’s be­come a bed­room com­mu­nity for com­muters to Man­hat­tan and Con­necti­cut’s more tony coastal towns, but it has re­tained the ru­ral char­ac­ter that was set in 1708 when the colo­nial as­sem­bly of Con­necti­cut per­mit­ted 36 men to lay out a new town. Some houses date from that era, but there are typ­i­cal mod­ern sub­di­vi­sions, too.

“It’s still very much a small town in its heart. Peo­ple really know each other,” said Dan Cru­son, the town his­to­rian.

Sandy Hook is a sec­tion of town where the first grist mill was built along the rocky Pootatuck River. Other mills fol­lowed, and man­u­fac­tur­ing grew in Sandy Hook. In re­cent years, it has been re­vi­tal­ized with smart restau­rants and shops.

Ev­ery year, the lo­cal Lions Club raises thou­sands of dol­lars with a char­ity event along the river: Thou­sands of num­bered yel­low rub­ber ducks are sold for $5 each, then dumped in the swift cur­rent for a race, the win­ner of which might get a big-screen TV or a week­end in Man­hat­tan, 60 miles away.

In the crowd watch­ing and cheer­ing and at events like the fire de­part­ment’s lob­ster din­ner, “ev­ery­one knows ev­ery­one. All of Sandy Hook is so tight,” Watts said.

Maybe the school shooter was rec­og­nized when he en­tered and didn’t seem a threat be­cause he was known, Watts spec­u­lated at the hard­ware store. “You would never think ...” he said, leav­ing the thought in­com­plete.

The close­ness has an­other di­men­sion, of course.

“Ev­ery­body in town is go­ing to help out. … All of the churches are open tonight,” said his co­worker Fran­cis Og­geri, 22.

Scud­der Smith agreed. “I was just down at the fire­house. Restau­rants were send­ing in food,” said Smith, pub­lisher of the New­town Bee, the weekly pa­per.

New­town, he said, is “get­ting big­ger than the lit­tle coun­try town that I grew up in. I’ve been here 77 years. … But it still has the feel­ing be­tween neigh­bors that it al­ways had.”

A po­lice scan­ner alerted the news­room to the shoot­ing, and re­porter Shan­non Hicks said, “I lis­tened long enough to fig­ure out where this was un­fold­ing and headed out.”

“It’s a good town. We have our is­sues” — squab­bling over the lo­cal bud­get, po­lice news and the like — “but this is not the kind of thing that’s sup­posed to be one of them,” Hicks said.

Stand­ing near the clut­tered an­tique wooden desk of the pub­lisher, she looked down sadly. “I’ve al­ready heard com­par­isons to Columbine,” she said.

For folks here, it is an abrupt shift in how they’ve al­ways thought of their home­town. They men­tion the homely, sim­ple things that might counter the hor­ror.

“We have two garden clubs, and they get along, they don’t hate each other,” said White, who checks the ffag­pole ev­ery day.

She laughed but then grew more se­ri­ous, men­tion­ing that her fa­ther was on the school board that au­tho­rized the build­ing of the Sandy Hook school. “That was my school,” she said.

She re­called a cer­e­mony mark­ing an award her mother re­cently re­ceived for work on a

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