The nativity play with a missing little angel: Beaming Olivia wears her wings for role she will now never play
10:30 GMT, 17 December 2012
With a beaming smile, six-year-old Olivia Engel holds up a gold star while wearing the wings she was going to put on for her role as an angel in this weekend’s nativity play at Newtown’s main Catholic church.
Instead she became one of the victims in the Sandy Hook school massacre – and the performance remained an angel short in her memory.
The Rev Robert Weiss of the St Rose of Lima church said: ‘She was supposed to be an angel in the play. Now she’s an angel up in heaven.’
Shining star: Olivia Engel, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook, was would have been an angel in her church's nativity
The evening nativity play was one of the few events running as planned in the town as church leaders and parents sought to provide something that would distract youngsters from the school tragedy.
Friends and family described little Olivia as a wonderful big sister to her three-year-old brother.
She adored school, took ballet and music lessons, and loved to play with the family’s dog, Petey.
Another young victim was Benjamin Wheeler, six, whose family had relocated to Newtown from New York City seeking a safer place to live. The youngster was said to love listening to his music teacher mother Francine sing and had inherited her musical talent.
Jack Pinto, six, loved to watch his favourite football team, the New York Giants. The team’s star receiver Victor Cruz has written the young victim’s name on his football jersey as a tribute after being told the young boy idolised him.
Gone too soon: Little Olivia loved school and loved ballet
The other young victims were Josephine Gay, Madeleine Hsu, Avielle Richman, Allison Wyatt and British boy Dylan Hockley, all aged six.
With packed local churches opening 24 hours a day over the weekend to keep with huge demand, Michelle Grossman, the mother of two of the other nine angels, said religion was deeply important to the town’s close-knit community.
'We’re strong and we’ll be there for our community,” she said.
'We’re all devastated of course. You don’t expect not to see your child at the end of a day – you just don’t.'
Her mixture of defiance and yet utter confusion was common among local people, many of whom moved with their families to the area because the schools were so good and the neighbourhood supposedly so safe.
The 300-year-old town, still possessing many of its original Georgian buildings, is the type of community that decks its lampposts with red ribbons and foliage at Christmas.
Strong: People recreate the Christmas Nativity Scene outside Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church a day after a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown
Now, it is festooned in home-made posters and painted sheets draped by roadsides which say simply: 'Pray for us' or, in one case, 'Hug a teacher”.
With many local people lost for words to describe their reaction to the shootings, they have shown their grief, sobbing at makeshift memorials of candles, flowers, teddy bears and even toy cars that have been sprung up throughout the town.
Jennifer Nykyforchyn, a sales executive who has lived there 17 years, has no children but came to leave daffodils under a flagpole – its stars and stripes flying at half mast – that serves as the old town’s roundabout.
'You can just feel the tension here. You just never know where you’re going to be safe,' she said.
Her husband, Wayne, a Canadian-born businessman, said the news of the outrage 'almost sucked the life out of me” when he read it on an iPad during a plane change at Chicago airport.
Never forgotten: A woman pays respects at a memorial outside of St Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church – the massacre has brought the whole world into shock
Remembered: Teddy bears left by mourners sit beneath some of the 27 wooden angel figures near the Sandy Hook Elementary School
At the Episcopalian Trinity Church, whose congregation boasted two of the children who died, former congregation members had driven up from New York to offer solace to the stream of worshippers who have been coming in.
The church had printed out a list of suggested books for children 'experiencing loss or trauma” and another sheet giving advice for 'Christian families' trying to cope with tragedy.
Scudder Smith, one of the oldest locals, has lived in Newtown 77 years. The only previous murders he could recall were a double killing involving the Hells Angels and a local man who put his wife into a wood chipper.
'Everyone thinks it’s a small New England town where nothing happens,' he said.
'Unfortunately once in a while something does happen and it turns out to be the worst thing that could possibly occur.'