KINGSTON - Six months after the deadly rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, more than 100 friends and family members gathered Saturday to remember the first victim - the mother of gunman Adam Lanza.
Under heavy police presence, mourners filed into the First Congregational Church shortly before 1 p.m. to pay their respects to Nancy Lanza, the 52-year-old mother who lived in Kingston for many years before moving her family to Newtown, Conn., in 1998.
Lanza was killed by her 20-year-old son at her Connecticut home on Dec. 14, 2012, shortly before he drove to the Newtown school and shot and killed 20 young children and six adults before turning the gun on himself. The tragedy is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
A deputy from the Rockingham County Sheriff's Department played the bagpipes outside the church as friends arrived and family members were escorted by police into the back of the church.
Adam Lanza's older brother, Ryan, was among those who spoke at the service for his slain mother, a 1978 graduate of Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston.
The area around the white wood-framed church, built in 1825, was closed off by police using orange cones and yellow tape, and the media were kept away.
Before the service began, mourners gathered at a nearby cemetery and placed flowers at a headstone for Lanza, whose maiden name was Champion.
Some around town worried that Saturday's service for invited guests would attract protesters, but none showed up.
While Lanza was a shooting victim, she's been a target of criticism from some who have questioned her parenting, arguing she's partly to blame for allowing her son to have access to guns.
But others who know the family have called her a devoted mother who should be remembered as a victim just like the children and school staffers who were killed.
"It's a tragedy that they portrayed her as somebody who allowed a mentally ill child to have guns and roam around. We still feel that Nancy was a victim. We feel terrible that this happened," said Tracy Taylor of Kingston, who attended Sanborn Regional High School with Lanza.
Taylor came to pay her respects, not only to Lanza but also to her family, which includes her brother, veteran Kingston police Officer James Champion.
"It was such a tragedy, and we're all connected to it because we know the family. Everybody knows who Jimmy Champion is. Everybody loves him," Taylor said.
While the service was held, Kingston House of Pizza owner Mark Gerakas worked at his restaurant just around the corner. Gerakas also knew Lanza and her boys, Adam and Ryan, when they used to stop by for a bite to eat when they were young.
Gerakas said he hasn't seen the Lanzas for many years.
"They were nice people. They were a nice family," said Gerakas, who has owned the restaurant for 30 years.
Gerakas wasn't about to judge Lanza.
"People can make their own judgments," he said. "So many people were victims of this. I think it's a tragic situation.''
The pizza restaurant was abuzz about the tragedy and Lanza's ties to the area in the days after the shooting, but Gerakas doesn't hear much about it these days.
"It's sad, no matter how you look at it," Fran Johns, a waitress at Josiah's Restaurant, said as she prepared to close up around noon.
Bob Cahill, who owns Cahill Electronics, a store in a small retail plaza near the church, also didn't blame Lanza.
"I think she was a victim," he said.