Along with answering questions like “Do you have hash browns or home fries?” the counter help at Sandy Hook Deli on Church Hill Road have become adept at answering “How can I see Sandy Hook School?” or “Where is the Sandy Hook memorial?”
The answers, said Deli cashier Zandra Thompson, are “There is no reason to go there” and “There is no memorial.” While the number of people seeking to view the scene is down to a trickle from the hoards that descended on Sandy Hook Center in early winter, Deli workers continue to see people from as far away as Georgia or the Carolinas. The lazy summer days bring in three to four people a week seeking to explore the scene of the 12/14 tragedy.
“They want to go [to the school]. They think there’s a memorial, and some get kind of mad, like we’re lying to them about there being nothing to see,” Ms Thompson said this week. “If they’re passing through, they will stop,” she said, with many declaring they have seen pictures on television of a memorial.
“They might see clips from this winter,” she guessed, “and think that’s what they’ll see now.”
Just up the street is the Sandy Hook Diner, where owner Ellie Lewis said that at least two to three travelers a week stop in, asking about the Sandy Hook School.
“I think that some see the Sandy Hook sign on the highway and decide to come down here. They say they want to pay their respects, and you can see the disappointment in their eyes when we say that there is no memorial there,” Ms Lewis said. “People still seem to want to do something, and don’t know what they can do,” she said.
Like the staff at Sandy Hook Deli has observed, Ms Lewis said many of the people who go into Sandy Hook Diner have traveled a great distance.
“We get many with a Southern drawl, from the South, and they seem to be specifically looking to stop in Sandy Hook,” she said.
Access to Dickinson Drive, which leads to Sandy Hook Elementary School, has been limited to officials since the shootings. On January 4, 2013, Public Works employees placed huge cement blocks across the driveway to increase security at the crime scene, at the request of Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe. Those barriers remain in place, along with surveillance equipment and numerous signs warning that trespassers will be prosecuted. Security personnel patrol the property regularly, often staying at a respectful distance until visitors pay their respects and then leave.
Some who try to drive up to the school are caught off guard, despite signage warning that entry is prohibited. Seemingly oblivious to the signs and barricades ahead of them, a vehicle with Florida markers tags turned up the driveway one recent Sunday, without slowing down. Members of Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue, whose main station is adjacent to Dickinson Drive, watched as the driver slammed on her brakes and nearly slid into the barriers.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said she sympathizes with the volunteers who use the firehouse at Sandy Hook, who have to bear the brunt of policing unwanted traffic on Dickinson Drive. Visitors will be further discouraged, she said, with the installation within weeks of a locking iron gate, deterring access to the site.
If a person were to breach the security, he or she would only encounter fencing that surrounds the empty school. There is, as locals have repeatedly said, nothing there to see.
According to a Newtown Police Department spokesperson, anyone who ventures beyond the barriers is subject to arrest, and anyone who returns after having been warned to leave the property will suffer legal repercussions.
First Selectman Pat Llodra shared with The Newtown Bee a recent experience of her own that occurred about a week ago. Traveling down Riverside Road behind a vehicle with out of state plates, she saw them turn onto Dickinson Drive toward the old Sandy Hook School building. Mrs Llodra followed them as far as the barriers, where the passengers got out. She approached them and they told her they were there to see the school. Mrs Llodra had to inform them, she said, that the site was not open to the public, and they could not enter the grounds.
She would also like to see light landscaping done around the area of the gate, to alleviate the feeling that the area is still part of a crime scene.
Out of town visitors may drive past the school driveway, initially. The white and black wooden Sandy Hook School sign was removed from its post months ago. Only the post remains to mark the entrance to the school.
Mementos continue to be left at the base of that post, once it is identified. Others leave their offerings on the opposite corner, near a utility pole. Plants and flowers are commonly placed upon the cement barriers, or nearby, along with personal notes.
A young man working as a camp counselor in Massachusetts pulled along the side of Dickinson Drive, one recent day. He was on his way home to Georgia, he told firefighters, and wanted to take the time to pay his respects. He had a bouquet of flowers lying on the passenger seat next to him, and spent a few minutes in his car writing something. He then walked to the barricades and laid everything down before quietly leaving.
That same afternoon, a vehicle with four women visited the site. One woman stayed in the vehicle while the other three walked to the barricade and spent time talking, then crying and hugging. They, too, brought flowers with them, and had taken the time to pull the petals from the flowers and lay the petals on the ground during their visit.
For Many, A Destination
George Lockwood, Sr, is a life member of Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue. He frequently spends time during the day at the firehouse, and observes many cars driving up to the barrier on the road to the school.
“I see them leave plants, flowers, even teddy bears,” said Mr Lockwood.
“Nothing is ever thrown away,” said Fred Hurley, director of Public Works. “Town workers remove any items as needed, and it all goes into storage, where it will eventually all be turned into sacred soil,” he said. (“Sacred Soil” is a term coined last winter by Mrs Llodra, and refers to how the thousands of items left or sent to the town will one day be repurposed, and used in either a brick form or as ground fill in a memorial yet to be determined.)
The visit to Sandy Hook is often a destination, according to the people with whom Mr Lockwood has spoken.
“We ask them, what do they think they’ll see? We tell them there is no memorial, it has all been taken down. Right now, there’s nothing,” Mr Lockwood said.
“They come here specifically to see the school, and you wouldn’t believe how far they come,” he said.
“The weekends are the worst,” added Mr Lockwood, estimating that at least 50 to 100 people stop by, seeking to see the scene of the shootings, every week.
“They walk up or drive up as far as they can go, then turn around,” he said, with the majority of the cars have out of state license plates. One recent carload of people had flown in from Brazil, then driven to Sandy Hook hoping to see the crime scene.
Especially busy were Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, and the 14th of each month always sees heavy traffic, according to firefighters at the Sandy Hook firehouse.
Firefighters do try to keep visitors from parking in the fire station property. It is private property, and a pair of signs warning No Trespassing and Fire Dept Personnel Parking Only have been stationed near the western corner of the parking lot since January.
Not everyone is seeking to pay respects. A few weeks ago, Sandy Hook Firefighter Pete Barresi encountered a videographer on firehouse and school property, whose intentions appeared to be on proving 12/14 “a conspiracy.” That encounter was a little bristly, when Mr Barresi suggested that the photographer was parked on private property and could not film there. It is the request to not park on firehouse or school property that people seem to resent, Mr Barresi said.
The firefighters are all surprised, Mr Lockwood said, at how many people still come by. A period of quiet would be welcomed.
“We’d like it to go away for awhile,” he admitted.