Newtown students' first day of school filled with hope

A bus traveling from Newtown, Conn., to Monroe stops in front of 26 angels along the roadside Jan. 3, 2013, the first day of classes for Sandy Hook Elementary students since the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting.
AP Photo

MONROE, Conn. For her son's first day of school since last month's massacre at his Sandy Hook Elementary, Sarah Caron tried to make Thursday as normal as possible. She made his favorite pancakes, and she walked the second-grader to the top of the driveway for the school bus.

But it was harder than usual to say goodbye.

"I hugged him a lot longer than normal, until he said, `Mommy, please,"' she said. "And then he got on the bus, and he was OK."

Her 7-year-old son, William, was among about 500 students who escaped a gunman's rampage that killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook on Dec. 14. On Thursday, the returning students settled in at their old, familiar desks but in a different school in a different town.

Returning students, teachers and administrators were met by a large police presence outside their new school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where a middle school that had been shuttered for nearly two years was overhauled and renamed after their old school. Several officers guarded the entrance and checked IDs of parents dropping off children.

Newtown superintendent Janet Robinson told CBS News that returning to school was an important part of the healing process for Sandy Hook families.

"It let parents feel reassured that their children were going to be able to go back to school, be able to enjoy the joys of childhood," Robinson told CBS correspondent Jim Axelrod at the end of the school day. "It let the teachers know how strong they really are."

Axelrod reports that all but 16 of the roughly 500 students at Sandy Hook Elementary showed up for school, which is typical during the winter season of colds and coughs. Of the teachers, three did not attend: Two were sick, and one wasn't emotionally ready to get back to work.

William's classroom had been across the hall from a first-grade room where children and teacher Victoria Soto died, and he had been nervous about going back to school, Caron said. But an open house Wednesday at the school eased some of his fears.

"They didn't talk about what happened at all," she said. "They went in, met up with their teachers, had a little circle time and it was just about trying to get them back into school."

Most of the students arrived at the new school in Monroe by bus, something school officials had suggested to help them get back into a familiar routine.

Nick Phelps, who lives a few blocks from the original Sandy Hook school, said his first-grader and third-grader are excited about the new school because it means a longer bus ride to Monroe, which is about 7 miles away.

He was there when the bus brought them home Thursday afternoon.

"I was never so excited to see my children and, certainly, to see my children get off the bus. There was a shared joy," he said.

About 80 parents attended an assembly Thursday with school and police officials, who fielded questions about security and activities planned for their children. White said security will remain at a high level for now and will be re-evaluated each week.

The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother inside their Newtown home before driving to the school. He shot his way into the building and carried out the massacre before committing suicide as police arrived.