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Dispatch from a new Newtown

  • HLN's Brian Rokus traveled to Newtown, Connecticut, Friday to cover the school shooting there
  • Here's his perspective on a seemingly idyllic place suddenly transformed by an unimaginable act
Dispatch from a new Newtown

Driving into downtown Newtown, Connecticut, late on a Friday night, you think just one thing: Norman Rockwell.

Getting off the interstate, you first drive past a diner, then you see the churches on Church Hill Road, then the small shops and restaurants near the intersection with Washington Avenue.

Newtown is what New England towns look like on postcards.

But when you look past the idyllic Christmas lights, you see other lights: high-powered TV lights illuminating reporters and lights illuminating satellite dishes in the parking lot of one of the churches.

Then there are the lights at the intersection of Church Hill Road and Washington Avenue -- flashing police lights, beyond which the road leads to Sandy Hook Elementary school.

In the light of Saturday, Church Hill Road has become a sea of locals and visitors bearing teddy bears and bouquets of flowers. Signs outside shops like “The Toy Tree” that would usually be used to advertise sales and specials ask for prayers. A woman giving an interview to a group of reporters has broken down in tears.

On Washington Avenue, a giant sheet is stretched over one house’s front door, painted with the words “God Bless Sandy Hook.”

A dress shop displays “Give your loved ones a hug.”

An office building sign simply says “Our hearts are broken.”

At Treadwell Park near the elementary school, more than 40 satellite trucks have set-up shots, transmitting images from more than 100 camera crews here from around the world. Anyone in a police uniform is swarmed by reporters with questions.

Of course, nobody has the answer to the most important question: Why?

To see how this tragedy really affects Newtown, you need to leave the media compound.

Stop in at the Dunkin' Donuts a few miles outside of downtown.

There, a group of high school kids are hanging out, which might not be unusual for a weekend afternoon -- until you realize they’re all gathered around a TV watching coverage on CNN.

Stand in line for a cup of coffee and the clerk asks the man ahead of you in a worried tone how he’s doing.

“Thank God,” he says, “they got my daughter out alive.”

With the list of victim names just released late Saturday afternoon, residents here have gone for nearly 36 hours not knowing for sure who is dead and who is alive -- whose children made it out and whose didn’t.

On the street leading into downtown, there’s one last scene: A woman sits on the side of the road, silently, holding a sign: “I am Love. I am Newtown.”

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