Newtown residents seek solace in church and prepare to bury their dead

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NEWTOWN, Conn. -- Residents of this shell shocked community attended church services and prepared to bury their dead two days after a gunman mowed down more than two dozen people in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

President Barack Obama left the White House mid-afternoon Sunday to head to Newtown, where he was to meet with first responders and families of the 20 children and 6 adults who perished Friday at Sandy Hook School. Funeral directors across the state were lending their help in preparing the dead, including 20 children, for burial.

But the ritual of Sunday worship even turned chaotic for some residents. St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church was evacuated during its noon mass after an unidentified man called in threats to the congregation.

At Newtown United Methodist Church, senior pastor Mel Kawakami said he's not sure he's ready to forgive the suspected shooter, identified by police as 20-year old Adam Lanza. Lanza allegedly shot and killed his mother in the home they shared before blasting into the school he once attended.

"I'm not sure I'm there yet. My heart is still broken," Kawakami told the packed congregation at the 10 a.m. service. Pews were lined with Kleenex boxes in the church, which is located less than a half-mile from the school.

Before Rev. Kawakami's sermon, many parents dropped their children off on a lower floor to shield them from a discussion of the tragedy.

Prayers were offered for the victims and for an end to gun violence. One father asked that the congregation pray for his son's best friend, who died at the school.

The altar was lit with 28 candles, one for each of the dead. "Yes, even the shooter," Kawakami said.

Kawakami said the community might one day find forgiveness. Meanwhile, he said, "We have more to mourn, and children and adults to bury."

Funeral directors across the state were already at work helping the lone Newtown funeral home prepare the victims for burial.

Six Connecticut funeral directors have traveled to Newtown's Honan Funeral Home, a family-owned facility located two miles from the site of the shooting, to help coordinate with families of the deceased.

The Connecticut Funeral Director's Association, which has 220 members, is matching the funeral directors receiving bodies of the deceased with others who have offered support in the form of transportation, caskets and cosmetics, spokeswoman Laura Soll said.

Soll said offers for help have come from all corners—everything from Canadian funeral homes to a tent company offering to donate a tent for guests at the Honan location.

At St. Rose of Lima's early morning mass, signs saying "No Press" greeted churchgoers.

Some hugged each other in the parking lot before making their way into the church, pausing briefly at a table filled with at a table dotted with candles. Others paused, pointing to the crush of media camped along the side of the road.