The village of Newtown Connecticut looked festive last night. Christmas lights glowed on the houses and tidy lawns of its winding main street. The parking lot of the local Catholic Church appeared to glow from afar. It was only when you came close you saw it was lit by the glare of TV lights.
A few hundred metres down the hill the road into Sandy Hook elementary school, affiliated with St Rose of Lima, was blocked by a row of police cars, their emergency lights flashing red and blue.
Inside the church Monsignor Robert Weiss addressed a thousand townsfolk, telling them that there were 20 new saints in heaven, the children who had been shot dead that morning by Adam Lanza.
“This was not the hand of God," he told Fairfax after the ceremony, as his parishioners gathered and wept in the pews, “this was the act of a man with issues.”
Monsignor Weiss had baptised many of the dead children and taught them all.
He took the call at around 9.45am. Something was happening at the school. It took him only minutes to cover the mile to the volunteer firehouse near the school where the surviving teachers had herded the surviving children.
Some of them, it was reported, were covered in blood. They had been gathered into the corners of their rooms as the killing spree – which lasted only minutes – thundered around them.
Some described hearing shots – there were thought to be around 100 rounds fired – but younger children did not have the words. One described the sounds as “snaps”; another thought it was like someone kicking a door. One boy spoke of the sound of footsteps of someone running fast.
By the time Monsignor Weiss arrived at the firehouse it was all over. At least 18 of the children, aged between five and 10, were already dead, two more were dead or dying.
Six adults, some of them teachers, were dead. Nancy Lanza, Adam's mother, was yet to be found dead in her nearby home.
Adam, who was 20, had apparently shot himself after his killing spree.
Monsignor Weiss told Fairfax of how he watched the teachers at the firehouse hold up signs with their class numbers on them as the children flooded in.
They took class rolls and released them into the arms of their terrified, relieved parents while other parents watched and waited.
“You could see them losing hope when the news came in and their children did not come back,” he said. “They were broken.”
Andrew Maingold, a 20-year-old local college student, was one of those huddling over a candle outside the packed church last night as the temperature dipped below zero.
He had been woken by a volley of recorded calls to his mobile phone just after 9.30am. His younger brother and sister still went to local schools, and family members were being notified that they were locked down.
He was not worried at first.
“I went to school here and it was always getting locked down, locked down for a drill, locked down because someone was shooting at targets.”
Then he heard someone had been shot in the foot.
Another local, a former volunteer fire fighter himself heard the same thing but then when he saw fire fighters weeping on television he knew something terrible had happened.
“I said to my wife, 'fire fighters don't cry because someone was shot in the foot'.”
Police, still piecing together the events, were reluctant to release official information yesterday, but news – not always correct - was spreading fast.
For a while it was reported Adam's older brother Ryan, 24, had committed the murders.
The scope of the horror became clearer in the early afternoon. Adam had shot his mother and then entered the school with weapons including a civilian version of a military rifle – similar to that used in the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in July, this year – to kill her class.
Soon the President ordered that flags be lowered to half-mast. Then he tearfully addressed the nation.
"Our hearts are broken today," he said, explaining that the majority of those who died were children - beautiful, little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old.
"They had their entire lives ahead of them - birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
Perhaps most significantly he told the nation, “We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
It is not yet clear what “meaningful action” means, but it is the clearest indication he is considering gun control he has given since he became President.
So powerful is the gun lobby that neither candidate mentioned gun control during the election, and after the July shootings Mr Obama spoke only of addressing the broader causes of violence.
By early afternoon though the debate had erupted across the nation, with gun advocates declaring, again, that gun policy should not be debated in the shadow of mass shootings, and those opposing them demanding policy change.
Outspoken New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called for immediate restrictions on the availability of guns. The failed Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee blamed violence on the removal of God from schools.
The prominent conservative Ann Coulter tweeted allowing more people to carry concealed weapons effectively cut the murder rate.
Monsignor Weiss kept the church in Newtown open overnight, with parishioners free to come and go under the wooden sign above the door that says, “Love one another.”