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On the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, firefighters lower the town's flag on Main Street to half-staff in honor of the victims, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
In Newtown, ‘there’s nothing that hasn’t changed’ a year after Sandy Hook
First Published Dec 14 2013 01:06 pm • Last Updated Dec 14 2013 01:06 pm

Drive through Newtown, Conn., these days and it’s just as bucolic, just as small-town, picture-postcard, rural-suburban America as it was on Dec. 13, 2012.

Gone, at least up ’til now, are the huge crowds, the heavy traffic, the hillsides of angels and the mountains of teddy bears, flowers and other sympathetic memorabilia that poured in from all over the world last winter, by-products of the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that etched the town forever into history.

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Gone also is Sandy Hook Elementary, demolished this fall behind a tall, screened fence amid tight security.

Work on a new school on the same site has yet to begin. The surviving Sandy Hook children continue to learn in the borrowed former Chalk Hill School in neighboring Monroe.

The teddy bears — tons of them — have been ground into "sacred soil" to be used in some future memorial that a town committee has only just begun to discuss.

But while fewer "We Are Sandy Hook — We Choose Love" signs and banners may hang and fewer people may wear the green rubber Sandy Hook School sympathy bracelets that once were in every store and on most of the wrists in town, a strong, vibrant thread of Sandy Hook green remains tightly woven into everything in town.

Double stitching weaves around and through the hearts of all Newtowners, wherever they may be — and all those angels that once dotted the hillsides and the roadside memorials are woven tight in there, as well.

Twenty-six large bronze stars — currently ringed with green-and-white Christmas lights — now are mounted on the roof of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Company firehouse, which used to be the access road to the school.

And for much of this fall, the amazing run of the Newtown High School Nighthawks football team helped lift spirits and divert attention of many in town; the team wore Sandy Hook memorials as part of its uniform.

Both within and far beyond Newtown’s borders, an ocean of sympathy remains — with a tide still so high that Newtown’s First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra has publicly implored well-wishers and media to stay away on Saturday’s first anniversary of Adam Lanza’s rampage and let Newtowners reflect in peace.

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Dozens of new organizations and foundations have sprouted and grown to distill whatever good they can from the grimmest of circumstances.

These are among the countless ways that Newtown, once known chiefly for the flagpole at the center of town, and the world have been changed as a result of the tragedy.

Armed with three semi-automatic firearms, Lanza, a 20-year-old whose name many Newtowners still won’t utter, began that day one year ago by shooting his mother, Nancy, as she lay in bed. He then drove to the school he once attended and quickly gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators.

Then he shot himself.

Nancy Lanza frequently gets left out of people’s counts of the carnage of that day. Virtually no one counts all the way up to 28.

For families, profound changes » While Newtown and its sleepy, frozen-in-time Sandy Hook enclave are still the same beautiful little town they always were, they can’t help but feel different.

"In a lot of ways it is the same because you slip into your life’s routine…" said Robin Fitzgerald, a self-described "soccer mom" who is one of many who have seen their lives change dramatically over the past year.

"You go to the same grocery store" and still have to take your kids to places they need to go, "so in a lot of ways, I feel like I still have the same life here. But in other ways it’s profoundly different," said Fitzgerald, who has a 13-year-old son at Newtown Middle School and a daughter, 16, at Newtown High School.

Soon after the shootings, Fitzgerald and her husband, Kevin, founded the Newtown Volunteer Task Force. Suddenly, she found herself coordinating more than 2,000 volunteers answering phones, matching donors to those in need and writing tens of thousands of thank you notes.

But there are other changes she notices.

"When you hear about a lockdown — and there was just a lockdown the other day (at University of New Haven) in West Haven — you zero right in on those things," Fitzgerald said. "You never miss them."

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