They came to see a father, not a politician.
Throughout Newtown, people who would normally speak ill of the man were turning for solace to President Barack Obama – the “dad-in-chief,” as many here termed him after his emotional initial response to the massacre Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“Everyone appreciates that he’s here because he genuinely cares,” said Allie Duris, standing next to a pickup bearing a “Bad Ass Girls” bumper sticker.
“A lot of people were complaining about his politics, but now, they see how he reacted and they know he’s got two daughters and everything and we’re just, like, really thankful he’s here.”
His calming influence came on a Sunday when everything else remained so turbulent. Church services were interrupted by bomb threats, emergency vehicles weaved among cars with sirens blazing and horrible new details about the murders emerged.
“How do we get back to normal? We don’t,” said 48-year-old businessman Sean Karins, after returning to the Sandy Hook fire hall to survey the scene where he helped close friends through unspeakable grief 48 hours earlier. “We will never be the town we were. There are no answers.”
Mr. Obama looked to fill that void, speaking with victims’ families before delivering a subdued speech during an interfaith service Newtown High School.
“We can’t tolerate this any more,” Mr. Obama. “These tragedies must end, and to end them we must change ... We can’t accept events like this as routine.”
His words suggested gun-control legislation could be on the horizon, but he did not specify specific policy changes.
His arrival came just hours after Dr. H. Wayne Carver II, finished examining the last of the 28 bodies, that of Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who lived for years here in relative anonymity before solidifying everlasting infamy by storming the front doors of Sandy Hook Elementary.
Authorities revealed on Sunday that he blasted his way through the glass doors at the front of the building. With a keen aim honed at an indoor shooting range 30 miles away, Mr. Lanza sprayed “hundreds” of bullets from his .223 Bushmaster rifle throughout two classrooms. He paused only to alternate 30-round clips, which he had taped together for quick firing. He murdered 20 children and six adults – some struck as many as 11 times – stopping only when he heard police arrive outside.
“There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips,” said State Police Lieutenant Paul Vance. “Certainly a lot of lives were potentially saved.”
His motive remains a mystery. Locals recalled Mr. Lanza’s mother, Nancy, as helpful and outgoing, quick to volunteer for school functions and painstakingly neat in the home she kept after divorcing her GE executive husband, Peter, four years ago.
It was also known that she found a certain solace in firearms.
“Guns were a hobby for sure,” said Dan Holmes, a landscaper who worked at the Lanza residence. “But she seemed otherwise normal to me.”
Her son shot her four times with one of those guns before driving her car to the elementary school, authorities said.
He carried three guns into the school, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm, and a Bushmaster rifle. He used the rifle on all his victims at the school – eight boys, 12 girls and six adult women.
Several young residents recalled Mr. Lanza as shy but sharp. His time at the Western Connecticut State University would tend to confirm that, according to university administrator Paul Steinmetz. Mr. Lanza took several classes from the summer of 2008, when he was just 16, through to the spring of 2009. His highest score was an A in Visual BASIC computer programming and a C in Philosophy 101. His overall GPA for six classes was 3.26. Despite his decent performance, “the couple of profs I talked to who had him as a student don’t remember him,” said Mr. Steinmetz.
Throughout town, state trooper vehicles idled outside the homes of victims, each acting as a sentry to ward off reporters. Mr. Karins, who is close with three grieving families and held the hand of one mother as she received the grim news from police on Friday, said everyone is devastated. “They are not doing well,” he said. “When that news first came there was screaming and fainting and, it was just horrible. It’s not much better now.”