The most famous thing about Newtown, Conn. -- until now -- was perhaps the 100-foot flagpole that has stood in the middle of Main Street since 1876. The pole is a source of community pride, but on Friday night it was also a symbol of sorrow, its flag hanging at half-staff in honor of the 20 children and six adults shot to death hours earlier.
That it happened in a school was the ultimate insult, residents said, because the schools are what continue to draw young families to this quiet, town in Connecticut's southwestern corner, a 90-minute drive from New York City. The schools and the sense of kinship they foster are what keep the place together, they said.
"This is a community, not just a town," said Cathy Masi, a real estate agent whose office window frames the downtown flagpole.
Masi spoke with a determination that didn't seem necessary until the shooting. Because she knows, everyone here knows, that their unpretentious suburban-rural town of 28,000 is going to be tested like never before.
Parent, Child Recount Connecticut School Shooting
"We are a very strong community," Masi said. "We are going to rally around the families. And we will get through this."
Dark was falling, it was getting cold and hardly anyone was out, other than reporters and satellite trucks. Many residents were waiting for the vigils that would be held at various houses of worship around town. Some posted simple, handwritten signs on their lawns saying they were praying for the victims.
"It's full of love, this town," John Vouros said, standing in the vestibule of his Main Street bed and breakfast, festooned with wreaths and bright ribbons and holiday lights. He paused to catch himself and his eyes got watery. "This is one of those towns where you think, 'This could never happen to us.'"
He waved his arms out at the historic downtown, lined with century-old trees and Colonial-style houses. "It's quiet here. There's no sensationalism. We all got excited when Starbucks came. And now..."
Vouros collected himself again. "Now we're on the map. How ridiculous. How awful."
But Newtown is resilient, he said. "You'll see that over the next few days."
Tales of Horror from Newtown School Shooting
Inside the Trinity Episcopal Church, a few people had walked in off the street to pray. James Curry, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, fought back tears as he considered the evil that had come to this town. But if Newtown has anything, it is faith, he said. And that will get them through.
"The people here know they have to come together, and they will," Curry said.