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Relief in Newtown over plan to replace school at site of massacre

People put items from the old Sandy Hook School into garbage containers as they clean up the school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut January 3, 20
People put items from the old Sandy Hook School into garbage containers as they clean up the school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut January 3, 20

By Richard Weizel

NEWTOWN, Connecticut (Reuters) - The day after a task force unanimously recommended razing and rebuilding Sandy Hook Elementary School, residents expressed relief tinged with sadness on Saturday in the small New England town that became a focal point of the national debate on gun control.

No one seemed more relieved by the decision than Dina Latimer, who lives near the road that leads to the school where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators on December 14 in one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history.

"It was a nightmare when it happened and it's been once for us ever since," said Latimer, the mother of a 14-year-old boy who once attended the school and a 2-year-old daughter who will be enrolled there in a few years.

Latimer said the international media coverage of the killings has led a daily onslaught of onlookers drawn to the school, which is now blocked off with orange police cones.

"There's constant noise and we even had to put up no-parking signs to keep people off our property," she said.

A 28-member task force of elected town officials decided late Friday night to demolish the 56-year-old school and build a new one on the same site.

Latimer said people come to pray, take photos, or just see the intersection of River Road and Dickenson Drive that is also the site of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Company, which played a major role in responding to the shooting rampage.

Nearby, where a large Sandy Hook School sign once stood directing people to the school, a makeshift memorial continues to be replenished. People place flowers, teddy bears and paper angels under what remains of the sign - just a white pole surrounded by overgrown bushes.

"Tour buses even come and all the people get off and take pictures," Latimer said.

"I'm very happy they're going build a new school," she said. "I would never consider sending my daughter to the old school where such a horrible thing happened. But it would have been even better if they rebuilt it somewhere else.

"We're still thinking about moving because this tragedy will never be forgotten," she said.

Some residents do not want people to forget the day that Adam Lanza, 20, a former Sandy Hook student, killed his mother in their home and then opened fire at the school and not stopping until he killed himself.

Lanza's spree set off calls for tighter gun laws but legislation requiring expanded background checks for gun purchases died in the Senate this spring.

Emma Canfield, 22, a lifelong Newtown resident, said she was so upset by the mass murder that she wanted to do something "so people would remember the victims."

Canfield, who also supports the school being rebuilt, painted a memorial of slogans, such as "20 Angels, 6 Heroes," and "Love Is Louder than Violence" on a vacant storefront below her apartment at 26 Botsford Hill Road that includes 26 stars for each of the victims.

"The day it happened knew I had to do something," Canfield said. "I wanted people driving by to see something to keep our community united."

The school, which has been closed since the killings, would be reconstructed at an estimated cost of $57 million over 17 to 21 months.

Meanwhile, Sandy Hook's 450 students in kindergarten through fourth grade will remain at Chalk Hill School in the neighboring town of Monroe, where classes were relocated following the massacre.

In other school shootings in recent U.S. history, including after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, towns decided to demolish parts of the school rather than build new facilities.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)

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