Newtown residents ready to step out of media glare

Dylan Stableford
The Lookout

NEWTOWN, Conn.--It's time to go home.

That's what many residents here have been saying about the media since Monday, when funerals began for 20 children and six adults killed in last week's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"There are people who should be able to get to these funerals," Janice Butler of Newtown told Yahoo News on Wednesday, standing a few hundred yards from the entrance to the school where Friday's shootings took place. "But some of them can't because you all are here."

At the Newtown General Store, when a member of the media thanked a store employee for a breakfast sandwich, she replied, smiling, "Thank you for leaving."

In the first few days following the tragedy, most reporters here were respectful of the town's 27,000 residents, sharing in their shock and grief while trying to cover it. And most residents and shop owners seemed to understand that it was a major news story of deep interest to many readers and viewers.

Figs Restaurant welcomed TV host Geraldo Rivera for two meals late Saturday afternoon. By Tuesday, though, the restaurant had stationed one of its cooks in the parking lot, barring media from parking there.

Also Saturday, a Newtown teacher offered use of his bathroom and WiFi to several reporters. And the back dining room of the Iron Bridge bar in Sandy Hook became an ABC News bureau on Sunday, where network staff watched President Barack Obama's speech at the interfaith vigil at Newtown High School.

But on Monday, the Newtown Bee posted a note on its Facebook page, imploring its colleagues and journalists in the media to leave families of the dead alone. "PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM THE VICTIMS," the note said.

"We acknowledge it is your right to try and make contact," the paper added on Facebook, "But we beg you to do what is right and let them grieve and ready their funeral plans in peace."

Several local residents visited the page, adding their voices to the chorus of criticism.

"We want our town, our lives back," Dennis Brinkmann wrote. "You did your job, now leave us be."
"Journalists should be reporters not voyeurs," wrote another.

"We did turn to you when it was unfolding, because we needed to know what was going on, but now leave," Dorene Doran wrote. "We need to give these families time to themselves. Don't worry they will seek you out if they want to talk to you."

"As I drove down Main Street today I was upset at the number of cameras just aimed at the door to the funeral home," Gail Lovorn wrote, suggesting the community erect a screen to block the view. "The last thing these families need is to see their family and friends in these tender moments broadcast for the world to see."

On Tuesday night, a man walking up Church Hill Road carried a sign that read: "Dear Media, GTFO!"

"Even I'm getting sick of us," a cameraman for a German television network said after filming an interview with a woman about the crush of press in town.

There are signs that the media swarm is beginning to ease.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who arrived Saturday, left Newtown after his broadcast on Tuesday night. Most of the satellite trucks that lined the center of Sandy Hook, steps from a makeshift memorial and less than a half mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, were gone on Wednesday. The parking lot at Treadwell Park, where close to 100 satellite trucks were parked on Saturday, sat empty, too.

The Starbucks next to Saint Rose of Lima Church on Church Hill Road, which had served as a makeshift international media center since the funerals began, was filled on Wednesday morning with residents heading to services for 7-year-old victim Daniel Barden--no media in sight.

But not everyone in Newtown wants to see the media gone.

"Please, please don't leave," a Sandy Hook resident named Dennis told Connecticut Public Radio's Colin McEnroe on Wednesday. "Because I know that people on the outside are feeling the same thing that the people on the inside are feeling. And it's ... it's just helplessness. So the more information they can get--as long as it's correct information--it might help them a little bit. It might, you know?"