When Sandy Hook Elementary School students and staff entered their new school building on Jan. 4, the first time since the Dec. 14 school shooting, they walked into a winter wonderland.
Their new school - an unused middle school in Monroe, Conn., seven miles from their old school building in Newtown, Conn. where the shooting took place - was filled with hundreds of thousands of handcrafted snowflakes, in all shapes and sizes, created by people from all over the world and sent to Connecticut for the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook project, organized by the Connecticut PTSA.
Among the snowflakes filling Sandy Hook's new school were those created by Ocean City Intermediate School's students and staff as well as attendees of the Ocean City Free Public Library's snowflake crafting sessions, organized by Young Adults Librarian Sara Bruesehoff.
A week before Christmas break, Ocean City Intermediate's students spent an afternoon crafting the snowflakes for Sandy Hook. They also held a minute of silence to remember the 26 lives lost in the shooting Dec. 14, the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history.
Ocean City Intermediate School teacher Katie Merz later hand-delivered the snowflakes to a warehouse in Monroe, Conn., where the state PTSA was storing them.
Merz said her boyfriend lives in Monroe, and he had attended the unused middle school that was converted into the new Sandy Hook.
She said that when she entered the warehouse she was in awe.
"I can't even describe to you how many snowflakes there were. Thousands and thousands, boxes and boxes, piled up all over the place," Merz said.
She was told she was the 208th person to hand-deliver boxes of snowflakes, which doesn't take into account the countless more mailed in, including Bruesehoff's box.
Merz said she had also brought with her a picture of one of Ocean City Intermediate School's fourth-grade classes holding their snowflakes, taken by their teacher, but when she went to hand it over, the organizers asked if she, too, would take a picture in the warehouse with the donations.
They had her stand in front of two huge maps, one of the United States and one of the world, each covered with push pins representing the many places that have sent in snowflakes for Sandy Hook.
"Every single state, of all of the 50 states, had a push pin in it," she said. "I was just in awe. It was so amazing to see how many people around the world took the time to make snowflakes for Sandy Hook."
Merz said she has been emotionally affected by the tragedy, which she attributed to being a teacher.
"People don't realize how much teachers love their students, and I think all have that protective instinct and would do anything for our students, including risk our lives for them," she said. "One of the Newtown teachers put it really well in saying, 'As a teacher, how can I not love my students?"
Bruesehoff said she is proud of Ocean City for helping make Sandy Hook Elementary School a little cheerier.
"I noticed that as we were hanging the snowflakes up (in the library), it made this space different," she said, "so I can only imagine what it would do to a school, having hundreds of thousands hanging from the ceiling, stuck to all the walls, in every classroom, every hallway."
Contact Elisa Lala: