A season that should be a time of holiday joy has been marked by heart-wrenching loss in tiny Newtown, Connecticut, with five more funerals and six wakes planned for Thursday.
A Justice Department official said the country's top lawyer, Attorney General Eric Holder, would visit the town Thursday to meet privately with first responders and law enforcement officials. The official requested anonymity because Holder's visit had not been publicly announced.
At least nine funerals and wakes were held Wednesday for those who died when 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, armed with a military-style assault rifle, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday and opened fire. He killed six adults and 20 children, all of then 6 or 7 years old. Lanza killed his mother at her home before the attack and killed himself at the school as police closed in.
More tributes were scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
"The first few days, all you heard were helicopters," said Dr. Joseph Young, who attended one funeral and would go to several more. "Now at my office all I hear is the rumble of motorcycle escorts and funeral processions going back and forth throughout the day."
At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Wednesday, mourners arrived for 6-year-old Caroline Previdi before the service had even ended for 7-year-old Daniel Barden.
"It's sad to see the little coffins," said the Rev. John Inserra, a Catholic priest who worked at St. Rose for years before transferring to a church in Greenwich.
"It's always hard to bury a child," Inserra said. "God didn't do this. God didn't allow this. We allowed it. He said, 'Send the little children to me.' But he didn't mean it this way."
Hundreds of firefighters formed a long blue line outside the church for Daniel's funeral. Two of his relatives work at the Fire Department of New York, and the gap-toothed redhead had wanted to join their ranks one day.
Across town, at Christ the King Lutheran Church, hundreds gathered for the funeral of Charlotte Helen Bacon, many wearing buttons picturing the 6-year-old.
In nearby Stratford, family and friends gathered to say goodbye to Victoria Soto, a teacher hailed as a hero for trying to shield her students, some of whom escaped.
And in Woodbury, a line of colleagues, students and friends of slain Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, wrapped around the block to pay their respects to the administrator, who rushed the gunman in an effort to stop him and was killed.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the service.
"She loved kids. She'd do anything to help them and protect them," said Joann Opulski.
The symbol of Christmas took on a new meaning in Newtown, where one memorial featured 26 Christmas trees — one for each victim at the school.
Edward Kish said he bought a Christmas tree two days before the shooting but hasn't had the heart to put it up or decorate it.
"I'll still put it up, probably," he said. "It doesn't seem right, and it doesn't seem like Christmas."
Photo: A police officer stands outside as a service begins for teacher Anne Marie Murphy at the St. Mary Of The Assumption Church in Katonah, N.Y. Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. Murphy was killed when gunman, Adam Lanza, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)"