Hours before the official list of victims’ names had been released, Thomas Leuci, 13, had already learned that at least one person he knew did not make it out of Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday.
“One of our wrestlers for elementary school… he was killed,” said Thomas, who participates in the Newtown Youth Wrestling Association. “It’s sad. It was his first year actually.”
Thomas’ younger brother Steven, 9, had not yet heard the news. He looked up at his older brother and asked, “Wait, which one?”
“Pinto,” Thomas said.
“Oh … him,” Steven said softly. Though he attended a different school, Steven knew of Jack Pinto, who was six-years old and had taken part in a wrestling meet on Thursday, the day before Adam Lanza invaded Sandy Hook Elementary. Jack’s funeral, one of the first after the slaughter, was scheduled for Monday afternoon. On Sunday, Victor Cruz, the New York Giants receiver, wore Jack’s name on his cleats and gloves to honor the child, who idolized him.
The Leuci brothers began mourning earlier. On Saturday afternoon, Steven and Thomas stood at the intersection of Dickinson Drive and Riverside Road near the entrance to Jack Pinto’s school to pay their respects. They watched mourners leave flowers and balloons at the site. Thomas said simply, “It’s sad.”
Volunteer firemen positioned 26 Christmas trees along the edge of Dickinson Drive, the road that leads to Sandy Hook Elementary School. The trees – originally part of the fire department’s annual sale – were donated by an anonymous North Carolina resident. Twenty-six trees with toys and beads between their branches for the 26 victims who will not unwrap gifts this Christmas.
Educational Assistant Shari Burton – who was inside Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday during the shooting – placed angels atop three Christmas trees at the base of Church Hill Road Saturday night. “Those angels represent the children that I’ve lost and the staff that I’ve lost,” said Burton, who has worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School for more than ten years. “And this to me is part of healing – one day at a time, I came here so I could start to heal.” Burton and her 16 students never saw Lanza, but they could hear his gunfire.
“I’ve lost friends,” she said. “I’ve lost students I’ve worked with.”
The sidewalk has vanished under the angel-adorned trees, covered over with toys that should have been under living room Christmas trees. Among the gifts left was a pop-up Curious George musical box designated for Jack Pinto.
On Friday, as the news spread of the assault on Sandy Hook Elementary, Steven and Thomas Leuci sat in their separate schools, scared and silent in the dark corners of locked-down classrooms, wondering what was happening, if anyone was hurt and if their schools would be the next target.
“I was actually pretty scared because I thought that it wasn’t over,” Steven said.
Both brothers sat behind locked doors for more than two hours Friday morning—Steven in Head O’Meadow Elementary, Thomas at Newtown Middle School–waiting for answers about the tragedy unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School less than five miles away. “I just really wanted to know if we knew anyone that was killed or injured,” Thomas said. It turned out that he knew little Jack Pinto.
The brothers have openly talked about what they felt Friday as the single gunman wrought chaos on their town – but their faces and voices do not reveal any obvious emotion. Their tone remains unaffected. They appear to be processing all the disturbing information without shock, but with a stoic acceptance.
And yet there will be questions that will be difficult or impossible to answer. Nine-year old Steven asks one of them: “I was wondering why he did that.” He doesn’t mention the name. Everyone knows who he is talking about.