NEWTOWN, Conn. - While the people of Newtown do their best to cope with loss and preserve the memories of their loved ones, another class of residents is also finding it difficult to move on: the emergency responders who saw firsthand the terrible aftermath of last week's school shooting.
Firefighter Peter Barresi was driving through Newtown on Friday when police cars with lights flashing and sirens blaring raced toward his oldest son's elementary school. After he was sent to Sandy Hook school himself, he saw things that will stay with him forever.
With anguished parents searching for their children, he prepared to receive the wounded, but a paramedic came back empty-handed, underscoring the totality of the massacre. Barresi, whose own son escaped unharmed, later discovered that among the 26 dead were children who played baseball with his son and had come to his house for birthday parties.
"For some of us, it's fairly difficult," said Barresi, of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire and Rescue Co. "Fortunately most of us did not go in."
While family, friends and even strangers weep, members of the emergency forces that responded to the shooting, many of them volunteers, are wrestling with frustration, guilt and anguish as they receive counseling from a state intervention team to help them deal with the horrors they saw and heard.
Authorities say the victims were shot with a high-powered, military-style rifle loaded with ammunition designed to inflict maximum damage. All the victims had been shot at least twice, the medical examiner said, and as many as 11 times. Two victims were pronounced dead at a hospital, while all others died in the school.
Initially, only police were allowed to enter the building amid concerns about a second shooter. They are credited with helping to end the rampage by gunman Adam Lanza, who killed himself as officers stormed the building. But some responders struggle with not having been able to do more, questions over what could have been done differently and a feeling that they do not deserve praise.
Firefighter Marc Gold, who rushed to offer help even though his company was not called, said he is haunted by the trauma of the parents and the faces of the police who emerged from the building.
"I saw the faces of the most hardened paramilitary, SWAT team guys come out, breaking down, saying they've just never seen anything like this," said Gold, a member of the Hawleyville Volunteer Fire Department. "What's really scary to me is I'm really struggling, and I didn't see the carnage."