NEWTOWN, Conn. - Eight of the 12 girls killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School were Girl Scouts. Two troops of the smallest scouts were shattered. One that had 10 members now has five. And a troop of five girls now has just two.
Girl Scouts are particularly active in Newtown, with 125 troops involving more than 700 girls, and now, as the town struggles to overcome its grief, Girl Scouts are relying on their troop friendships and activities to recover a bit of their lost sense of normalcy.
"We were together when we were strong, and we're going to stay together now that we're Newtown Strong," said Kelsea Morshuk-Allen, 16, using a term that is emerging as a sign of this town's resilience.
Small indications of that attitude are everywhere, such as the sign "Newtown Strong" that appeared under the scoreboard when the high school basketball team returned to the court Wednesday. Or the campaign to create a memorial fund from the sale of thousands of $2 "Newtown Angels" bracelets, a campaign with the slogan "Newtown Strong. Newtown Proud." Or Kelsea's "Gone but not Forgotten" T-shirt made in a high school graphics class.
Kelsea and her friend Brooke Hadgraft, 15, met a decade ago as Daisy Girl Scouts, as the troops for kindergartners and first graders are called. Those killed in the massacre were Daisies. Now Kelsea and Brooke and their fellow scouts plan to mentor the remaining girls in the two affected troops - all of whom survived the shooting at Sandy Hook.
Scout leaders are planning to combine the two troops that lost eight girls into one and pair the little girls who lost so many of their friends with Kelsea's troop of older scouts.
A monument to the lost girls is being planned, as is an event in January, where the three million women and girls involved in Girl Scouts worldwide will remember the eight little Girl Scouts of Newtown.
Robbin Chaber Allen, Kelsea's mother and the chief Girl Scouts organizer in Newtown, said the mother of one girl who died called her and urged her to use scouting as a way of remembering the girls. Four of the mothers whose daughters were killed are Girl Scout leaders, Allen said.
"She wanted to make sure we did something that was positive, as opposed to just being about sadness," she said.
Brooke, who like Kelsea is a sophomore at Newtown High, said she had worked with one of the girls who was killed when she was in a child-development class that pairs high school students with preschoolers. In a small town, nearly everyone has a personal connection to someone who was killed.
"There was a lot to cry about," Brooke said. "It's a lot to recover from, but we have to get stronger, and we will. That's the truth."
The Boy Scouts are also popular in this town, where the scouts camp and organize public-service projects such as building houses for the poor. About 550 boys and 180 adult volunteers participate in Boy Scouts.
Two of the eight boys killed were from the same Cub Scout pack, and three other members of the 80-boy pack lost a sibling, said Tony Vogl, a Boy Scouts spokesman.
In a show of solidarity, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from far beyond Newtown attended the funerals last week.
Kelsea and Brooke were at Newtown High School, about a mile and a half away from the shooting Dec. 14 when officials declared a lockdown. A security guard ushered them out of the hallway and into the nearest classroom and ordered them to stay inside.
The girls said they thought it was a drill, so they found seats together and pulled out their biology books to study for a test on viruses. "Luckily, me and Kelsea were together," Brooke said.
After an hour, they heard the helicopters overhead. The girls said the vice principal came on the loudspeaker and said there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook and asked that students with siblings at the school gather in a lecture hall.
That night, Kelsea and Brooke's troop had a Christmas party scheduled at Kelsea's house. They decided not to cancel so they could gather together for strength.
"It made us closer," Brooke said. "I was grateful that we had each other, and we have each other because of Girl Scouts."