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The Globe and Mail

Tears, kindness as Newtown begins saying goodbye to its children

A boy walks is seen outside the funeral home where services for six-year-old Jack Pinto, one of 20 schoolchildren killed in the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, were held in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 17, 2012.

Adrees Latif/REUTERS

From across the country came small, impromptu gestures of kindness. Near Newtown's only funeral home, there is a small deli where many mourners congregated. The staff informed them that the coffee was free Monday – paid for by a man from Los Angeles who had called to offer his support for the town.

Local resident David Callen came out holding a bag of candy for the children attending one of Monday's funerals. It was a gift from a family in Kansas City, Mo.

In Newtown, where the funeral of six-year-old Jack Pinto was held on the same day as the service for six-year-old Noah Pozner in nearby Fairfield, mourners filled the walk leading to the funeral home. Standing under umbrellas, clutching children's hands, they waited patiently to enter the small three-storey building. Some wore ribbons in Sandy Hook Elementary School's colours – green and white.

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One of the mourners was Jack Wellman, an eighth grader, who served as an unofficial coach to a group of younger wrestlers, including Jack Pinto.

Jack was dedicated and disciplined, always giving the sport his all, the older boy said. "I can't say a bad thing about him," he added before starting to cry.

His mother, Caren Wellman, said there were no words to describe the scene inside the funeral home. "It's a nightmare we're not waking up from," she said.

The daunting logistics of adequately memorializing so many dead has brought out the best in local businesses. At Brown's Monument Works, Ned Steinmetz was fielding multiple calls from families looking for headstones. A few kilometres away, Swenson Granite Works decided to donate any stone needed for graveside monuments.

"This is our town, our town business, and we look after one another," said manager Gregg Walter.

At Newtown Florist, the little store was filled to its steamed-over windows with help, nine workers buzzing about non-stop. Wreaths and memorial arrangements covered all available workspace. Shipments of new wrapping supplies were stacked outside the front door for lack of space inside. "We're overwhelmed," said one employee who declined to give her name.

In Fairfield, mourners honoured the too-short life of Noah Pozner, a little boy whose curiosity was boundless, as was his appetite for Mexican food.

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Mourners passed beneath the limbs of a towering maple affixed with a small green sign – "OUR HEARTS ARE WITH YOU NOAH" – before entering the Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home.

Inside, the boy's mother and brother told of his ever-changing hopes. His love of tacos was so great that he mused about one day running a taco factory. At other times, he seemed willing to settle on being a doctor.

"If anyone listened to her and didn't have a tear in their eye, they're not normal, they're not human," said Edgar Gluck, who attended the funeral representing a Jewish group that arranges free burials.

"He was just a really lively, smart kid," Noah's uncle Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Wash., told the Associated Press. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."

Bomb-sniffing dogs scoured nearby parking lots and checked floral arrangements heading into the service. Threats of protest hung over the event, drawing a police presence of more than 30 local and state officers.

The Fairfield Police Department called for the overwhelming reinforcements after receiving information that protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church would turn out. The church is notorious for protesting military funerals, blaming America's loose morals for the deaths. "We had no specific information on a bombing or shooting," said Fairfield Police Lieutenant James Perez. "We received loose information about protests and wanted to do everything to prevent a second tragedy for a family that doesn't need it."

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As a funeral procession led by more than a dozen officers on motorcycles left the memorial, a group of women from a radiology clinic across the street broke down in grief. One fell to the wet ground while others gathered to console her.

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