Bomb threat at church service disrupts Newtown’s grieving

Newtown — With the raw horror of Friday’s school massacre still haunting their minds, hundreds of traumatized residents sought solace and comfort at St. Rose of Lima Church Sunday — only to be terrorized once again by a heartless lunatic calling in a phony bomb threat.

The chilling call came just three days after Adam Lanza, 20, used a powerful semi-
automatic assault rifle to massacre 20 helpless first-graders and six brave staffers trying to protect them at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The threat came just hours before President Obama met privately with still-shaken first responders and victims’ heartbroken families before an emotional vigil at Newtown High School.

About 12:30 p.m., a camouflage-dressed SWAT team and Bomb Squad armed with rifles and a shield entered St. Rose of Lima just moments after its monsignor interrupted the priest’s homily and told stunned parishioners of the threat.

“After all we’ve been through, now this? This is unbelievable,” said one disbelieving parishioner at St. Rose, where several funerals for the tragic victims were set to take place this week.

Police quickly determined the threat was a cruel hoax, but weren’t taking any chances.

“Everything is being taken seriously,” said state police Lt. J. Paul Vance, after police searched the house of worship and an adjacent parish education center.

After an hour, Trumbull Police Officer Deborah Metz gave the all clear sign.

But all religious activities for the rest of Sunday were canceled, according to Brian Wallace, a spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

“I don’t think any of us are surprised by anything after what happened this week,” he said.

Vance said investigators are attempting to trace the frightening call and collar whoever made it.

Hoping to stave off similar acts in the upcoming week of wakes, funerals and memorial services, U.S. Attorney David Fein made it clear that state and federal prosecutors are prepared to bring charges against anyone caught making threats at public gatherings, to victims’ families, the shooter’s family and witnesses.

Fein said “harassment not only includes in-person contact but also contact via the Internet, social media and telephone.”

Funerals for the first two of the 20 child victims will take place in Fairfield and Newtown this afternoon.

Services for Noah Ponzer, whose family moved to Newtown because they felt the schools were better and safer than those in New York City, will take place at 1 p.m. in the Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home, 88 Beach Road in Fairfield. Rabbi Saul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel in Newtown will officiate.

Survivors include his 6-year-old twin sister, Arielle, who was in a separate classroom at the Sandy Hook School and whom Noah called his best friend.

At the same time, services for Jack Pinto, 6, will take pace at the Honan Funeral Home at 58 Main St. in Newtown.

St. Rose of Lima will be the site for Tuesday’s noon funeral of Jessica Rekos, 6.

Laura Stoll, a spokeswoman for the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association, said contributions and offers of help have flowed in from across the country and around the world.

Pasquale Folino, who heads the association, said 100 volunteers from 55 funeral homes across the state are helping prepare the bodies, provide transportation for families as well as ushers for crowd and traffic control. Additionally, he said several funeral suppliers in Connecticut have provided the caskets and burial vaults at no charge. Some florists have donated arrangements.

“We had an emergency board meeting Saturday where we put together a plan to offer whatever help the Honan Funeral Home (the only funeral home in Newtown) will need,” Folino said. “This is such a tragic situation that requires a real need to assist the families. Our hope is our help will make things easier.”

Autopsies of the 26 Sandy Hook victims were completed Sunday.

Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver finished the final two, those of Lanza and his 52-year-old mother Nancy, and determined the woman had been shot four times in the head by her rampaging son. Lanza, 20, shot himself once in the head as he saw police approaching, potentially sparing the lives of dozens of other students and staffers.

Meanwhile, more details emerged about what transpired on that tragic morning.

Lanza, brandishing a .223 Bushmaster carbine, Glock and Sig Sauer handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, blasted his way through the school’s locked doors.

Almost immediately, he was confronted by Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist, as they rushed toward him. He mowed down both in a hail of gunfire.

He then stalked down a hallway past one locked classroom and into that of Lauren Rousseau, who was substituting for a teacher on maternity leave. He pulled the semi-automatic rifle to his eye, riddled the teacher and each of the 14 first-grade students as they cowered in fear, the website ctnow.com reported.

He went onto the next room, another first-grade class taught by Stratford High School graduate Victoria Leigh Soto.

Soto, hearing the gunshots and the confrontation over the intercom, had hidden her children in closets and cabinets. She reportedly told Lanza they were elsewhere in the building.

But six students tried to run, and Lanza swung around and cut them down. He then sprayed Soto and another female adult in the room. Seconds later he pulled a pistol and ended his life with a shot to the head.

All of the victims were shot three to 11 times, according to autopsies.

Vance said Lanza carried “multiple high-capacity magazines” and hundreds of casings were found in the two classrooms and the hallway. More terrifying, the state police spokesman said, hundred of additional bullets “had not been used.”

All of Newtown’s schools will remain closed today.

 

Staff writers Tom Cleary and Dan Tepfer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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