Newtowners hope the house will be torn down.
'We have to do something'
"Books heal hearts." That simple message greets visitors to the C.H. Booth Library along Main Street. Dozens of books, displayed atop pressed white tablecloths, line tables in the long entry. Among the titles: "I Cry Alone," "As We Grieve" and "Tear Soup."
Sarah Clements, a 17-year-old junior at Newtown High, works at the library. In the weeks after the massacre, she took a phone call at the circulation desk.
"Are you the Newtown library?" the man said.
"Yes. Can I help you?"
"Did the shooting actually happen at Sandy Hook elementary?" the caller asked.
Shaking, Sarah hung up. Her mother is a second-grade teacher at the school and was in the building that day. She attended third and fourth grades at Sandy Hook and had volunteered almost every day after classes to help her mother at the school.
Since December 14, she has suffered panic attacks. Ordinary tasks have become labored. It's hard to concentrate during tests. Even walking into a classroom brings anxiety.
And now somebody had the audacity to call and question if it was real?
Sarah returned to the desk after a 20-minute break, still trembling. A woman approached and offered comfort. "For every one person that says that to you," the woman said, "there are hundreds of thousands of us that are standing behind you when you fall."
The caller might've caught Sarah off-guard, but he picked the wrong person. Standing up is what she does best.
"We didn't want this to happen," she says. "But because of it, we have to do something."
The teen has become an outspoken advocate as chairwoman of the junior chapter of the Newtown Action Alliance, one of the groups that emerged from the tragedy that is pushing to reduce gun violence through legislation and cultural change. Sarah urges teens to call lawmakers to get their voices heard, to "help move anger and sadness into good things."
"Students should be at the core of this debate," she says. "We're the next generation. We're going to be living in the world that our legislators are creating for us. So I think we need to tell them directly that this is what we want to see: 'I want my town to be safer. I want my country to be safer.'"
She helped send a group of Newtown youth to a New England conference sponsored by PeaceJam, a foundation working to shape young leaders with the help of Nobel Peace Prize winners. She is helping plan other events, including a summer symposium for teens from all over the nation to discuss reducing gun violence.
Gun rights groups might have celebrated the defeat of universal background checks this spring, she says, but they had better be prepared for a long battle: "We aren't going anywhere, and just like the violence does not deter us, neither will these small 'defeats' in Washington."
Sarah's arms are lined with bracelets honoring the 26 victims at Sandy Hook. Most are green and white, the school's colors. One was sent from a Virginia Tech student; another was from a group in Tucson, Arizona, that aims to spread messages of kindness. That's where former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded in a shooting spree that killed six.
She used to wear fancier bracelets but has traded them in for this new fashion statement. "The fact I've given up that part of me in honor of what happened is really meaningful to me.
"It actually provides something for me to hold onto."
In those moments when the pain is unbearable, she rubs one bracelet with the names of all 26 victims. "It's raised so I can, like, feel it," she says. "I like rubbing it."
"The coping is going to take a long time, and I think people are starting to realize that," she says. "I like being at school because being in classes takes our minds off of things."
The high school provided counselors in the days and weeks afterward. Therapy dogs were brought in, too. Students loved snuggling with them. They also found comfort in each other. "If you saw a person crying, you just walked up to them and hugged them."
Principal Charles Dumais sent students, teachers and parents e-mails imploring them to not accept the tragedy as "the new normal," saying, "We will get through this and we will move forward." He ended the notes by telling people to close their eyes and think of a brighter future, a place that's safer.
"I felt like he was talking to me, saying, 'You have to do what you have to do to heal yourself, but also heal others.'"