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US town in mourning inundated with gifts from nation in shock

NEWTOWN, Connecticut -- Newtown's children were showered with gifts— tens of thousands of teddy bears, Barbie dolls, soccer balls and board games — and those are only some of the tokens of support from around the world for the town in mourning.

Just a little over a week ago, 20 children and six school employees were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, attacked the school, then killed himself. Police don't know what set off the massacre.

Days before Christmas, funerals were still being held Saturday, the last of those whose schedules were made public, according to the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association. A service was held in Ogden, Utah, for 6-year-old Emilie Parker. Others were held in Connecticut for Josephine Gay, 7, and Ana Marquez-Greene, 6.

A horse-drawn carriage brought the miniature coffin of Marquez-Greene to The First Cathedral church in Bloomfield, Connecticut, where 1,000 mourners gathered to bid goodbye.

The service included a performance by Harry Connick Jr., who has played with the girl's jazz saxophonist father, Jimmy Greene, the Connecticut Post reported.

Family members remembered her as wild-haired child with her own love of music.

“Ana had a song,” said the Rev. Paul Echtenkamp of Glory Chapel International Cathedral in Hartford. “It just came out of her.”

In Ogden, people tied pink ribbons around trees and utility poles in memory of Emilie Parker. Her father, Robert Parker, was one of the first parents to publicly talk about his loss and he expressed no animosity for the gunman. Dozens of emergency responders paid their respects at the start of the service for Gay at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, walking through the church and up to the altar

All of Newtown's children were invited to Edmond Town Hall, where they could choose a toy. Bobbi Veach, who was fielding donations at the building, reflected on the outpouring of gifts from toy stores, organizations and individuals around the world.

“It's their way of grieving,” Veach said. “They say, 'I feel so bad, I just want to do something to reach out.' That's why we accommodate everybody we can.”

The United Way of Western Connecticut said the official fund for donations had US$2.8 million in it on Saturday. Others sent envelopes stuffed with cash to pay for coffee at the general store, and a shipment of cupcakes arrived from a gourmet bakery in Beverly Hills, California.

The Postal Service reported a six-fold increase in mail in the town and set up a unique post office box to handle it. The parcels come decorated with rainbows and hearts drawn by schoolchildren.

Some letters arrived in packs of 26 identical envelopes — one for each family of the children and staff killed or addressed to the “First Responders” or just “The People of Newtown.” One card arrived from Georgia addressed to “The families of 6 amazing women and 20 beloved angels.” Many contained checks.

At the town hall building, the basement resembled a toy store, with piles of stuffed penguins, dolls, games, and other fun gifts. All the toys were inspected and examined by bomb-sniffing dogs before being sorted and put on card tables. The children could choose whatever they wanted.

Jugglers entertained the children, a dunk tank was set up outside and the crowd of several hundred parents and children sang an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday” to one child. A man dressed as Santa Claus was in attendance, and high school students were offering arts and crafts such as face painting and caricatures.

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