Everyone pitching in to help
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