Many of the children who escaped last month's massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school on Wednesday afternoon will get their first glimpse of their new school, which has been decked out as a "Winter Wonderland" with the help of thousands of kids from around the country.
More than 400 Sandy Hook Elementary School students in kindergarten through grade 4 will return to classes on Thursday for the first time since the December 14 attack, but on Wednesday afternoon the children and their parents have been invited for a walk through at their new school in neighboring Monroe.
The attack by 20-year-old Adam Lanza left 20 Sandy Hook first graders and six staff members dead in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
Lanza, described by family friends has having Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, before heading to the school about five miles from their home, police said. He then took his own life as police were arriving at the school, which had an enrollment of 456 students ages 5 to 10 before the attack.
Police have offered no firm motive for the attack, and state police investigators have said it could be months before they are in a position to offer a report on it.
The assault stunned the nation, prompting President Barack Obama to call it the worst day of his presidency and reigniting an extensive debate on gun control. In response the attack, the National Rifle Association called for armed guards to patrol every public school in the country.
Armed police will be on hand on Thursday when the pupils arrive at the former Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, about 8 miles south of the Sandy Hook school. Sandy Hook remains an active crime scene and is closed to anyone but police.
The school has also been equipped with a new security system, which will also be installed in Newtown's seven other schools shortly, Newtown School Superintendent Janet Robinson said in an email to district parents.
"As we enter 2013, we begin the year knowing that we are forever changed," Robinson wrote. "We have an altered sense of security and will continue to grieve for the senseless loss of such precious little ones and their teachers, but we will join together in a new appreciation of what we have and will make something positive emerge from this."
Chalk Hill will also be decorated with thousands of paper snow flakes and other decorations made by other students from Newtown and around the country to help lift spirits of the 436 children scheduled to return to school.
So many decorations have been donated that organizers have asked for no more to be submitted.
"We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity from around not just the country but the world," the Connecticut PTSA said in a message to prospective decoration contributors. "At this time, we have enough beautiful snowflakes to blanket the community of Newtown. Therefore, with regret we must close the snowflake project to further donations."
At Chalk Hill, the students will have a new principal, Donna Page, because Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung was among the six adults killed in Lanza's attack. Page is a former administrator in Newtown schools who has agreed to serve as interim principal while a permanent successor is sought.