Grace McDonnell would write messages for her mother in the bathroom window.
On the first day without Grace, the bathroom fogged up and mom glanced at the window. And right there was a message from beyond the grave.
The little girl had drawn the peace sign, her favorite symbol. Above it was a heart with the words: "Grace, Mom."
"She was all about peace and gentleness and kindness," said Lynn McDonnell.
Amazing, Grace. A girl who lived by the family's mottos: "Live for the moment" and "Soak it in."
The McDonnells are now part of a community bound together by the tragedy of what transpired at a Connecticut elementary school, joined by a nation that has grieved with them.
Yet amid the memories of that awful day in Newtown, signs of hope have emerged.
Gene Rosen won't forget his connection. It's touched his soul and made him believe more in God and angels again.
Rosen went out back to feed two of his cats shortly after 9:15 a.m. on December 14. His home sits on an acre of land on Riverside Road, with his backyard on a hill overlooking Sandy Hook Elementary.
That day, he heard staccato gunfire -- Boom! Boom! Boom! -- coming from the vicinity of the school. The retired psychologist convinced himself it was fireworks.
Andrei Nikitchyuk was working in his home office that morning. He received a robocall from the school that it was in lockdown. He didn't think much of it -- the school recently had two lockdowns for false alarms: a suspicious car and bank robbery.
Inside the school, his son, Bear, walked down the hall with a friend toward the main office. Gunshots whizzed by.
Teacher Janet Vollmer huddled with her children away from doors and windows. Someone turned on the intercom system. The sound of gunfire and a woman crying was piped into every classroom.
Vollmer told her kids she loved them and began reading out loud.
A loss of innocence
It shattered a town and brought a president to tears. Twenty children -- all aged 6 and 7 -- were gunned down in the safest place they had ever known, their home away from home. Six educators died, too, hailed as heroes.
Never had an act of violence seemed so heinous, so horrifying in America. An attack on pure innocence at a school that symbolized peace and love.
Since then, residents of Newtown have been dealing with the arc of life in unimaginable ways -- of death and loss, of pain and suffering, of shock and horror, of beginning to heal.
Couples who settled here years ago had grown close to one another through their children and their schools. Teens in middle school had babysat the first-graders slain at Sandy Hook. Some teens had played on sports teams with siblings of the slain children; others attended dance class with sisters of girls killed at the school. College students, home for the holiday, saw the school they loved desecrated.
"I can't even tell you how hard it is for these kids," said Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education. "A lot of these kids have been here their whole lives. That's why these connections are so strong.
"They've lost their childhood."
Newtown's Pastor Rocky Veach had been a preacher in Littleton, Colorado, when the Columbine shooting occurred. He said the biggest lesson he learned from the 1999 massacre was "that a lot of things are going to pan out over the next months here, even years, and you will see God's hand was in this, but you can't see it now."
Maybe it's too soon, too difficult to imagine another reality further in the future. Right now, residents can only think of the town they once knew and how everything changed that Friday.
For most, the pain is just too fresh, the attack too senseless to comprehend.
In the wake of the massacre, Americans have begun looking at gun control and mental health issues. It's also forced our society to take a deep introspective look: Have we become too polarized? What can we learn from those children?
Is there meaning to be drawn from Grace's message on that window?
Journey into hell
Gene Rosen had blocked out the sounds of whatever he heard coming from the school. How obnoxious, he thought, that somebody would shoot off fireworks so early in the day.
"I wanted to think that," he said, "because I know the school is over there."
He fed his two cats in a loft above his garage and walked back toward his home. He spotted something odd toward the end of his driveway.
There were six children -- four girls and two boys -- sitting on his lawn. A woman sat in the middle with them. A tall, skinny man stood over them and spoke in a loud voice: "IT'S GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT! IT'S GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT!"
Rosen thought they were practicing a school skit. When he got closer, he could see the children were out of breath and crying.
"There's been an incident at the school," said the woman, a Sandy Hook bus driver.
Rosen's not sure how the bus driver ended up with the children on his lawn. Nor does he know the identity of the man, who later walked off.
But Rosen knows this: It was the start of a "journey into hell."
He once had worked as a psychologist with the chronically mentally ill at a state psychiatric hospital. But nothing had prepared him for what would transpire next. Instead, at 69, his grandfatherly instincts kicked in.
He invited the children into his home. He ran upstairs and grabbed as many stuffed animals as possible. They calmed the children briefly.
One of the girls stared out his living room window. "I want my mommy," she said. "I want my mommy."
The two boys sat on the floor, crying uncontrollably and shouting, "We can't go back to school! We can't go back to school! We don't have a teacher!"
Then they said the name of their 27-year-old teacher, Victoria Soto.