NEW YORK -- Residents describe the town of Sandy Hook as a tight-knit, quiet community with elaborate Halloween and Christmas displays, little crime and the last place on earth you would expect a mass school shooting to happen. On Friday, just hours after a gunman shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- many of them children -- former and current residents said they were shocked and devastated.
Facts were few and far between late Friday afternoon. The shooter had been identified as Adam Lanza, The New York Times reported. While neither the victims' names nor the shooter’s motive have been released by police, residents of Yogananda Street in Sandy Hook, Conn., were on lockdown Friday afternoon as police cruisers and an ambulance rushed to a home on the street where the shooter or his parents are believed to have lived or are currently living.
Sandeep Kapur, a 41-year-old local resident whose son graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary School two years ago and whose daughter, 4, is set to begin school there next year, said he didn't know anyone who lived in the house two doors away, where police seemed to be focusing their attention.
"We're feeling it pretty directly, but it’s one of those things where it surprises you and takes a while to settle down," Kapur said. "Right now we're just in shock."
Kapur said that around 2:30 p.m., he and and his neighbors were told by authorities to stay inside their homes. Kapur said he's been following the news on TV and has talked to friends whose children attend Sandy Hook Elementary. Luckily, he said, those children are all safe. Still, the events in town have been deeply disconcerting.
"You always wonder, if he didn't have a gun would things be different? But I don't know, I don't think that's up for debate right now," he said. "I just want to make sense of the situation first."
Dorrie Carolan and her husband raised four children in Newtown, the larger town of about 27,000 people that surrounds the village of Sandy Hook and a place that Carolan has lived for 24 years. Reached at her daughter's home in Newtown, Carolan said she was horrified at the loss and surprised that the attack happened in a town where Main Street at this time of year looks like a Christmas card. She described the town's main thoroughfare as a street lined with large historic homes, where every resident puts up elaborate Christmas light displays. At Halloween, that same street comes alive when 2,000 kids stream down it, and almost every homeowner gives out candy, she said. Still, Carolan said she is no stranger to tragedy.
As the co-founder of the Newtown Parent Connection Inc., a nonprofit organization that coordinates bereavement support groups, provides services for families dealing with substance abuse crises, and hosts all sorts of parent education classes, Carolan said she has interacted with hundreds of local parents looking for information and help. She also lost her own son at 28 to a prescription drug overdose.
"You worry about the kids and how they're ever going to survive this and will life ever go back to normal," she said of the shooting. "Of course for the parents who have lost a child today, their lives will never be the same."
On Friday afternoon, Carolan said she had received dozens of calls from area counselors, social workers and therapists willing to volunteer their services in town.
Colleen Reed Bryant, a special education teacher at Head O'Meadow Elementary School in Newtown, said she knew three adults who reportedly died in the attack at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday morning.
Bryant, 47, said she had not heard anything to suggest anyone knew such a thing could happen. "I don't think anyone had any clue about this," Bryant told HuffPost. "This is a really quiet New England town and this kind of thing doesn't happen, ever. Everyone knows everyone in this town."
Bryant said she watched President Barack Obama's remarks on the tragedy and thought they were appropriate. She said it's too soon for politics.
"Right now, before we start talking about gun control, we just need to talk about these families, and these children and the people who are not going to bring their children home tonight," Bryant said.
Arthur Delaney contributed to this report.