People turned to prayer and God in Newtown, Conn., on Friday in an effort to make sense of the unthinkable after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, inside an elementary school.
Churches' doors swung open to a town shaken by one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history.
The gunman, identified by the Associated Press as Adam Lanza, killed 20 children between 5 and 10 years old inside the school shortly before 10 a.m. Lanza reportedly shot his mother, who according to some media reports, worked at the school.
"You have to give people a chance to pray. What else can we do in such a tragedy?" said Susan Kalbaugh, a Stephen Minister at Newtown United Methodist Church.
The small church located just up the street from the elementary school was also where an American Red Cross crisis team was stationed to counsel first responders. Its senior pastor, the Rev. Mel Kawakami, was one of many clergy called to the fire house to counsel grieving parents.
In addition to leaving the sanctuary open all day for prayer and counseling, the Methodist church held a prayer vigil Friday evening, one of many throughout the town.
But the inescapable thought on everyone's mind why would God allow such a tragedy?
Bonnie Fredericks, who owns a salon up the road from the school, said images of mittens, hot chocolate and little faces at the town's annual tree lighting last week, haunted her all day after the grim news become known.
"I don't know why God would let something like this happen," Fredericks said.
At St. John's Episcopal Church, Joann Hornak said the church will be open for the community for as long as people need to find solace.
"This is monumental, horrendous, beyond comprehensive. I can't image what these families are feeling," said Hornak, whose children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Patricia Ryan saw the lights on at St. Rose of Lima and stopped to say a prayer.
"I just kept praying to Mary that she console the family," Ryan said.
"I saw the lights on in the church, and I had to stop," Ryan said.
(Ann Marie Somma is the editor of our partner site in Connecticut, Hartford Faith & Values.)