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Newtown residents question Lanza's faith

CASEY MCNERTHNE, Connecticut Post
Updated 1:17 pm, Wednesday, December 26, 2012
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NEWTOWN - As more than two dozen police motorcycles escorted the casket of another Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victim away from Newtown's only funeral home, hundreds of people along Main Street remained silent.

Four of the 20 student victims were buried that Thursday, along with two teachers. Five more funerals were held Friday, and three more Saturday.

As the Thursday morning procession turned off Main Street and those who watched in 43-degree weather slowly walked back to their vehicles, there was the question of faith.

Reporters and locals are looking for the shooter's motive or wondering why a psychologist apparently wasn't in his life.

"But did he have any faith?" asked a longtime Newtown parent. "As a 58-year-old man, I've seen God taken out of the schools."

Some people wonder how God could let this happen to elementary-age kids, and maybe he's saying, "you didn't want me there."

That Newtown man spoke near St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, headed by Monsignor Robert Weiss, or Father Bob as the man and longtime parishioners call him.

Eight of the slain children and two of the teachers also were said to be members of that church. Residents said Weiss, who is beloved by his congregation, had baptized many of the kids in Newtown – including some of the victims – and is reported to have delivered some of the news to their families.

The Newtown parent who spoke to the Connecticut Post did so on the condition his name not be used. Newtown residents don't want the attention, he said, and that's one reason so many are hesitant with the flood of reporters.

There's also the concern of being ostracized for addressing the faith question that has been discussed quietly among some of Newtown's faithful.

Hours after the shooting, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who also is a Baptist minister, drew nationwide criticism for saying on Fox News that American should blame the schools for removing God from the classroom.

"We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," the former Arkansas governor said. "Should we be surprised that schools would become places of carnage?"

While some Newtown residents wonder the same thing, they do so among one another. Dozens of reporters from around the world are still looking for almost anybody to share their thoughts, and few will do so openly.

Incorporated in 1711, Newtown has roughly 27,000 people and is part of Fairfield County. About 95 percent are white, roughly three quarters are married, and almost half of all households have kids, census data shows.

Those government-recorded numbers no longer track religious affiliations to the county and city level, though the latest census data shows more than 228 million Americans indentify with a religion, with more than 173 million being Christian.

Luann Sullivan attends Trinity Episcopal Church and said several Newtown denominations regularly work together. Her neighbor and a friend estimated about 80 percent of Newtown residents had a spiritual foundation.

"We do work camps where we go off to other communities and we do like Habitat (for Humanity), but it's religion based," she said. "All the churches around town go. Certain ones pair up with certain ones, and sometimes we all go to the same place. My kids grew up with that."

Shooter Adam Lanza, 20, and his mother didn't appear to have a regular church.

He first voiced his military aspirations three years ago, and initially his mother, Nancy, supported her youngest son's dream, a friend said. She liked the idea that the military would give him purpose, a career path and structure to his life. But the more she thought about it, the more she saw a downside.

"It became overwhelmingly clear to her that it [military service] wasn't right for him," her friend Ellen Adriani told the Connecticut Post. "She squashed" any notion of Adam joining the Marines or any branch of the armed services by reminding him "that he didn't like to be touched," and that if he were injured, "doctors and medics would have to handle him to treat him."

Lanza's parents told friends and divorce mediators that he had Asperger's syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, but it is unclear if he had ever been formally diagnosed.

During a search of the family's Newtown home, investigators seized cellphones, computers and computer games, but found no evidence that he was being treated with any drugs prescribed for mental illness.

As several Newtown residents have noted, there has been little discussion of Lanza's faith, or lack of it. But they also take strength knowing that many victims had strong religious beliefs.

Shortly after the shooting, Weiss and other priests from St. Rose of Lima rushed to Sandy Hook Elementary School, where children were still being organized at the chaotic scene.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Weiss said last week was the hardest in his 13 years at St. Rose of Lima.

"I thought about Paul," he told the Post of the apostle. "Paul said, 'In my weakness I find my greatest strength.'"

Information from Connecticut Post reporters MariAn Gail Brown and Michael P. Mayko is included in this report. Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or at caseymcnerthney@seattlepi.com. Follow Casey on Twitter at twitter.com/mcnerthney.