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Home » News » Crime

December 18. 2012 9:11PM

Somber students return to school in Newtown; N.H. principal's nephew is buried


Mourners line the road to watch the hearse containing the body of Sandy Hook Elementary School student James Mattioli, 6, drive past on the way to a cemetery in Darien, Conn., on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

NEWTOWN, Conn. - Two more students killed in the Friday massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were buried Tuesday, one the nephew of the principal of Bishop Brady High School in Concord, N.H.

James Mattioli, described in his obituary as a "loving friend to all" and an insightful student in mathematics, was the nephew of Brady principal Trevor Bonat.

A message sent out to Brady parents via the school's electronic network let them know about the relationship. A video of a candelight vigil at the school on Monday focused on a candle labeled in memory of James. It was adorned with an angel figurine.

Efforts to reach officials and faculty at the diocesan high school in Concord were unsuccessful yesterday.

On-line websites portrayed a boy who enjoyed swimming, sports, wearing shorts and T-shirts in any weather and his family.

"He loved and admired his big sister and wanted to do everything that she could do. They were the best of friends, going to school together, playing games together, and making endless drawings and crafts together," read the on-line obituary.

James Mattioli was memorialized in church that has become a focal point for the grieving community, St. Rose of Lima Church. The church also celebrated a funeral mass for another student killed in the massacre, Jessica Rekos, 6.

Twenty first-graders and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. It remains closed, and students and their teachers will attend a school in nearby Monroe, which had been previously mothballed.

Other schools in Newton opened on Tuesday.

Head O'Meadow Elementary was among a handful of schools in Connecticut where hyper-vigilant authorities responded to threats or questionable comments on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. In some cases schools were locked down briefly. Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said only a few incidents have been reported, but all will be aggressively investigated.

"Any (conduct) like this will be treated seriously," Vance said. "It's not funny." People found responsible could face state or federal prosecution, he said.

At Reed Intermediate School, not too far away from Sandy Hook, parents milled in the parking lot after dropping off their children.

At Hawley Elementary School, Peter Muckell dropped off his 8-year-old daughter.

"I just wanted to get them back into a routine," said Muckell, who also has a 13-year-old daughter in the school district. "I just told her I loved her, and I kissed her."

Muckell said the issue of gun control should be addressed.

"Are we literally going to watch all our kids get slaughtered before we do something?"

Newtown High School sophomore Mike Stierle, 16, said returning to school feels "surreal, definitely. Not expecting anything like this to ever happen to this community."

"I really got to get to class," he said, before running off toward the school.

In an email to Sandy Hook Elementary staff and parents on Monday, Superintendent Janet Robinson wrote that officials hope to open Chalk Hill School in Monroe in January.

Using that school "is a solution that allows us to keep the entire faculty together," she wrote. "In the meantime, we need to tend to our teachers' and students' needs to feel comfortable after this trauma in this new place."

She wrote that parents will be invited to visit the school with their children this week.

"For some children, it will be simply to re-enter a school and know that they are safe," she wrote.

Hundreds of Newtown teachers and staff prepared Monday to return to school, attending a session with a national expert on children and bereavement, followed by meetings with state mental health counselors.

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who has been on site in Newtown since Friday and attended the sessions Monday, said that he has been "moved by the professionalism exhibited by school personnel, their determination and their positive energy - all despite the unspeakable and unimaginable circumstances."

At Newtown High School on Monday, all school employees, from administrators and teachers to paraprofessionals and cafeteria workers, came together to listen to David Schonfeld, director of the Cincinnati-based National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.

After the meeting, Schonfeld said he gave the teachers and staff suggestions on how to approach talking to students about the tragedy that occurred last week at Sandy Hook.

While you don't want teachers to begin sobbing, Schonfeld said he told them: "It's perfectly fine for teachers to become tearful or choked up" or "to share with them that they were a little more scared when they came to school today."

By allowing students to see that they were upset by what happened, Schonfeld said, teachers can help children understand how to cope with their own distress.

"You can't expect kids to learn how to cope if everyone pretends they are not bothered by it," Schonfeld said. "They should show their emotions. ... If you want kids to talk about how they are feeling, you have to let them know how you're feeling."

Schonfeld developed talking points for teachers in Newtown - and also for use around the state. In general, Schonfeld suggested that teachers give an age-appropriate description of what happened last week, including the fact that the assailant shot and killed himself after the attack.

"This young man died on Friday, so we don't have to worry about him hurting anyone else," Schonfeld suggested saying.

Schonfeld also suggested asking kids what they've heard, what their friends are saying about this. This gives teachers a chance to correct any misperceptions, while also giving them a perspective on how students are doing. Also, in some cases it may offer a safe framework for students to discuss their own worries.

In his guidelines, Schonfeld suggests teachers reassure students that the school is committed to keeping them safe and that they are there for anyone who wants to talk.

"We want to create an environment where it's safe for kids to talk about their feelings," Schonfeld said.

But Schonfeld said he told the teachers, "We are not expecting you to create a therapeutic environment ... You're there to provide support, not therapy."

If a child needs more personal help, schools have counselors available.

Schonfeld, who spent several days in Newtown, said he thinks the response to the tragedy has been "in good hands. ... The state is providing a lot of support and advice."

Pryor said that after the session with Schonfeld, the staff broke out into smaller clusters and met with counselors from the state departments of Mental Health and Addiction Services and Children and Families, to discuss their own feelings and what to expect with students on Tuesday. Pryor said the state Department of Public Health has also been providing assistance.


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