Hours after the explosion of violence in this tiny Connecticut town, hundreds gathered at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church Friday night. The crowd couldn't fit into the Newtown church, spilling onto its steps and the front pavement.

People wept, hugged one another and held lit candles.

Among those at the vigil were sisters Ginger and Kristy Sturges, who went to Sandy Hook Elementary School when they were children.

"It is a good feeling that in the middle of something terrible, everyone comes together to give support," Ginger Sturges, 37, said.

Kristy Sturges said it all felt surreal. "This happening in the town we grew up in."

Four siblings gathered around a line of candles outside the church.

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Nine-year-old Matthew Jacobs said it was important to be at the Mass "so we could support everyone who is here."

The four were with their parents, Bob and Brandy Jacobs. None of the children attend Sandy Hook, where 26 people, including 20 children, were shot dead earlier Friday.

"I couldn't get home fast enough," Bob Jacobs said of his hourlong commute. "It was the longest ride home I have ever had."


He said his children know some of the students who died, and when the full list comes out, he suspects they will know most of them.

On Friday, people in the town of about 27,000 used words like "surreal" and "shock" and "mind-blowing" to describe what happened.

Bobby, 12, and Julia Haskins, 14, recalled their bewilderment as a "lockdown drill" at school Friday afternoon stretched into two, then three hours. Teachers warned them not to use their smartphones. A friend whose little brother saw his teacher shot got excused early.

"You can't believe someone would be angry enough to kill a dozen children," said Bobby Haskins. "It doesn't even sound right when you say it."

"Evil" was what JoAnn Hornack, 62, said outside the Episcopal church where she is clerk. "What happened here was evil. That word doesn't usually come out of my mouth."

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The church had opened its doors to anyone who wanted to pray, and she said she'd seen a lot of new faces throughout the afternoon.

"It is like our town is a ghost town with zombies walking around," said Maura Fletcher, 48, a mother of four. None of her children go to Sandy Hook.

Violent crime is rare in Newtown, where vandalism and other small lawbreaking is typical, many people said.

Fletcher said the town's motto is "nicer in Newtown."

At a bar, Mitch Falconer, 55, who's lived in Newtown for 40 years, said he'd rarely seen the police respond to anything worse than a domestic dispute. "This is beyond anything you can imagine," he said.

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A Patchogue church has scheduled vigil for the Newtown victims Saturday at 7 p.m.: The Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main St.