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For Waterford resident Pasquale Folino, who mobilized efforts to provide free funeral services for the 26 teachers, administrators, staff and children who died last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the hard part has been wrapping his head around the magnitude of the tragedy.
"The manner of death and the shear number of deaths is what stirred up emotions in all of us," Folino, president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association and co-owner of Neilan & Sons Funeral Home in New London and Niantic, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's touched a lot of lives across the country."
Folino has been in Newtown off and on since Saturday and stayed overnight to help out at Wednesday's funeral of Charlotte Bacon, 6, who died in the killing spree visited upon Newtown Friday. The final tally: 28 dead, including the shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, Nancy, who was gunned down in her home.
Folino has been helping provide extra hands at Honan Funeral Home, the only such business in Newtown, as well as at other sites around northwestern Connecticut. So far, 160 funeral directors statewide have volunteered, and they are arriving in shifts of 20 per day, Folino said.
Honan alone is dealing with 11 funerals, all of them children. The last is scheduled for Saturday.
Charlotte Bacon, a redhead who reportedly loved animals and was learning taekwondo, was laid to rest Wednesday at Newtown Village Cemetery following services at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown. Other funerals were held Wednesday for elementary school students Daniel Barden and Caroline Previdi, teacher Victoria Soto - who saved several lives by hiding her students in a classroom closet - and Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal who confronted the gunman in a futile attempt to stop the massacre.
"It's a very, very hellacious week for everyone involved," Folino said.
Among the free services Folino has been able to provide, with support of the 220-member Connecticut Funeral Directors Association, were transportation of the deceased, funeral preparation services and assistance with the funerals themselves, including directing traffic. Among the items and services being donated, he said, are caskets, vaults and hearses.
Folino said he personally helped prepare one of the victims for funeral services and transferred one child from the medical examiner's office to a funeral home.
Folino, whose partners Chris Neilan and Mark Ennis took on extra responsibilities at the local funeral homes in his absence, also has been in the limelight during a media onslaught that saw television trucks scattered throughout Newtown over the past few days, representing major networks from the United States and overseas. He has been interviews for, among others, National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" and CNN's "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer.
The media, he said, has been "very respectful" and "sympathetic to the situation and to the victims."
Folino said he has been in direct contact with only one family, but his impression has been that the survivors are making sure the funerals are a celebration of life. Many caskets are being closed with teddy bears, dolls and pictures included inside, he said.
"They're trying to express how their child was in life."
One couple, he said, presented their artistic daughter's drawing to President Obama when he met with them Sunday during a vigil for victims in Newtown. The president promised he would hang it in the White House, Folino said.