Makeshift Memorials, Flags at Half-Staff Mark State of Mourning in Newtown

December 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Hari Sreenivasan reports from Newtown, Conn., as the town mourns its youngest victims and the fallen heroes at Sandy Hook Elementary who helped save the lives of students. Some residents try to describe what they knew about the shooter, while members of the close-knit community offer support and assistance to grieving families.

GWEN IFILL: Next, we turn to the communities and the people who are in mourning and coping with the tragedy, first, a report from Newtown.

Hari Sreenivasan is there.

 HARI SREENIVASAN: The signs of grief mingled with hope are at almost every turn in Newtown, Conn., from the makeshift memorials with angels and candles, to the flags at half-staff, to the small New England main streets packed with satellite trucks beaming back the news to the far corners of the Earth.

They’re all gathered to tell stories of the smallest victims and the heroes who saved many more, heroes like principal Dawn Hochsprung.

LILLIAN BITTMAN, Former president of Newtown Board of Education: This is her dancing in a conga line.

HARI SREENIVASAN: As former president of the Newtown Board of Education, Lillian Bittman helped hire Hochsprung. She ran the school newspaper for 13 years, but her ties to the school were tragedy struck run far deeper. Her three children attended Sandy Hook Elementary.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: For me personally, because I have been so involved with the school for so long, it is my heart. I just felt like he had come into my home and done this. This is how I felt. And then I started to panic about all the teachers I know there.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Teachers like Vicki Soto, who died shielding her first-grade students with her own body.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: The kids loved her. The kids on my newspaper, she was one of our favorites. Everyone wanted to interview her all the time.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, of course, Principal Hochsprung.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: I laugh because we have a sock hop every year. And the kids are all in, you know, 1950s costumes. And she dressed up in a poodle skirt. And she was short enough where I would lose her on the dance floor.

All the adults danced with all the kids. And it’s a wonderful event. It’s actually probably my favorite — my favorite activity that the school did, because you had all the generations dancing to rock ‘n’ roll. And that was just so indicative of Sandy Hook school.

DR. JEANNIE PASACRETA, psychotherapist: You know, it’s going to take I think months and years for this community to heal from what’s happened.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Dr. Jeannie Pasacreta is a resident of Newtown, but she’s also a psychotherapist who helps this community deal with grief. She warns that the preventive systems to recognize the next troubled individual and prevent the next potential school horror are failing.

JEANNIE PASACRETA: Budgets are so tight in schools that a lot of these ancillary positions, like psychologists and counselors, you know, have been cut or, you know, it’s like a lot of schools are running on a bare-bones system.

And there need to be people to identify kids that don’t fit into the social setting, you know, who show evidence that they’re struggling, kids that are being bullied, kids who don’t have friends, kids who appear depressed, kids who appear anxious.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Kids who could grow up to become like Adam Lanza, the individual responsible for the murder of 27 people.

JEANNIE PASACRETA: I would say all cases where somebody does something this horrific, there have been many signals for many years that something was brewing.


JEANNIE PASACRETA: My son was in his graduating class at NewtownHigh School. And he didn’t know him. He didn’t — never remembered his name. That’s noteworthy. In a town like Newtown, for a kid to be relatively anonymous, you know, that’s noteworthy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So anonymous that, when we thumbed through yearbooks with the Kromberg family, we couldn’t find a mention, let alone a picture, of Lanza, going back as far as the seventh grade, when he was listed as camera-shy.

This is the 2004 yearbook. Here in the sixth grade, Lanza is on the right. Kyle Kromberg is beside him on the left. Kyle is now a junior in college. We interviewed him using the Internet.

KYLE KROMBERG, classmate of Adam Lanza: He was a very bright kid, very intelligent. You could tell he really cared about school. He was very shy, though, very shy, didn’t want to look at you in your eyes. And if he did, he made you feel uncomfortable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, the same day these individual pictures were taken, the class was photographed as a group. Lanza is the only one missing. Kromberg and Lanza shared Latin class for three years during high school.

KYLE KROMBERG: If I would see him in the hallway, he was always walking alone. And if he was ever walking up to a group of people, more than three, maybe four or five people, he would get as close to the wall as possible. He would try and be as far away from them, almost as if he was afraid.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Though Kromberg feels a mix of anger and sadness, he says he also feels disappointment, because, knowing what he does about Adam:

KYLE KROMBERG: I would have done everything in my power to make him feel more belonging to the school. If I had known how uncomfortable he was, and maybe I had gone to talk to him on a personal level, who knows what could have happened.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Newtown only knows what did happen.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: The children?

HARI SREENIVASAN: During our interview with Lillian Bittman, the list of those killed became official.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: So just read me last names.

MAN: This isn’t going to be nice.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: Don’t you film this.


HARI SREENIVASAN: You knew at least a half-a-dozen of these people, these victims personally.

LILLIAN BITTMAN: Mm-hmm. Now we get to work. Now we support them. We do what we can. We bring them meals. We give them hugs. We love them. We take care of their kids if they have any and help them with — I mean, we do whatever we can. We just help.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Help that will be necessary for Newtown, Conn., to heal.

GWEN IFILL: You can read Hari’s notebook from Newtown. That’s in the Rundown, along with extended interviews with Dr. Pasacreta and Adam Lanza’s classmate.