Crisis counselors who were in the room described a scene of pandemonium when the announcement finally came.
“There was a fresh wave of grief,” said Pastor Kevin Merritt of Stepney Baptist Church nearby in Monroe, Conn. “It’s just hard, as parents, at that point, knowing that their child isn’t coming home.”
Merritt said the announcement was the first time many of the family members learned that their loved ones were dead.
Woodall, a veteran crisis counselor who has worked with families of 9/11 victims and international conflicts, had just returned from Uganda, where he was counseling former child soldiers.
“You don't expect to have to do this in your own hometown,” he said.
One woman, about 70 years old, was standing alone and shaking, Woodall said.
“You don’t need professional training,” he said. “You just hug her.”
Throughout the afternoon, people spanning several generations filed down the street in tears, flanked by firemen and police officers. A middle-age couple pushed through the crowd holding hands. A younger woman stopped about a hundred yards from the building and burst into sobs.
“I’m OK,” she said. “My son is OK. It’s just, I was helping. I held it together until I left.”
Several residents of the town and nearby communities came to witness the aftermath of what they described as an unthinkable event in their small town.
Some had attended the school or knew families whose children were students. Meri Rosco, who teaches a martial arts class in town, said she was looking for a mother who had left the martial arts class upset earlier in the day. One of the woman’s sons was still unaccounted for.
“It’s terrible,” Rosco said. “We just want to make sure he’s OK.”
Several local residents said they were having trouble processing how such awful news could hit so close to home.
“Your stomach drops,” said Kevin Foley, of neighboring Southbury, Conn. Like many at the scene, Foley said his first response was to call his daughter, 15.
“It’s like 9/11,” he said. “You want to get your kids. You want them with you. Now there are so many people without that hug.”
©2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
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