Heartbroken Community Seeks Answers from Leaders; Mental Health a Growing Concern

Article excerpt

Byline: Ben Wolfgang , THE WASHINGTON TIMES

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- In the window of a local deli, the mother of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student has left a message for this grieving town. Mourning will continue for weeks, months, even years, but focus is turning increasingly to larger issues surrounding Friday's massacre.

I pledge ... that I renounce the use of violence, reads the sign, penned by an anonymous mother of a local child. I promise to persistently seek help, guidance, and support if the contemplation of a violent act comes to me.

Many stopped to read the moving message Tuesday, as townspeople begin to ask painful yet important questions: Why did Adam Lanza have access to such firepower? Why couldn't anyone help the troubled young man, who was clearly disturbed and in need of mental health services?

The answers are complex and aren't yet apparent. But in between attending funerals for the 20 children and six adults slain in cold blood by Lanza, the people of Newtown are speaking out, asking why and pleading for action from their political leaders.

I think this is something that has got to be on somebody's agenda, said Jim Sullivan, a longtime Newtown resident who watched his two daughters, now in college, grow up in the tight-knit community, attending Sandy Hook during their early years of schooling. He made clear that gun control and services for the mentally ill are secondary right now - secondary to the sorrow he and others will feel for the rest of their lives.

St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church held back-to-back funerals Tuesday for James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, both first-graders killed in the rampage.

Yet Mr. Sullivan and others aren't ducking the bigger picture.

The townspeople have launched a group dubbed Newtown United, with the objective of using the tragic shooting to somehow prevent such violence.

I would like, when you think of Sandy Hook, you think, 'Oh, that's where they banned assault weapons,' John Neuhoff, a retired paintings conservator who lives in Newtown, told Reuters. If we can ban fireworks, we should be able to ban assault weapons.

One of the group's organizers, Lee Shull, said something positive must come out of the Sandy Hook killings.

Other members joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington on Tuesday, seeking to build a movement to stop the spate of mass shootings that has swept the nation in recent months, in Newtown; Aurora, Colo.; Oak Creek, Wis.; Tucson, Ariz.; and elsewhere.

During his remarks here Sunday night, President Obama pledged to do just that - form a coalition of law enforcement, educators, mental health professionals and others to identify the root causes of these tragedies and stop them before they occur.

Second Amendment advocates in Congress, such as Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, now appear open to backing gun-control measures, a long-standing policy priority for many Democrats but one that is fraught with political pitfalls and stirs intense emotions on both sides of the debate.

Those politics have met head-on with cold reality in Newtown. On a day when the area's schools, with the exception of Sandy Hook, resumed normal classes, some parents kept their children home. …