Gene Rosen's home sits right next to the firehouse. Inside his house, the kids continued to wail.
"We can't go back to school!"
At one point, one of the boys broke through his tears with a note of levity. He sat up, held his finger in the air and said, "Just saying, your house is very small."
"In that moment, he brought into the home peace and light," Rosen recalled. "I felt like an angel descended upon us and this boy, and we laughed."
"God sent a respite from hell -- just a moment of recess." He paused, then added: "They saw their teacher assassinated."
He and the school bus driver tried to call the children's parents, but they got answering machines. They notified the driver's supervisor who relayed the information to authorities. Some of the parents soon arrived. The parents, Rosen and the six kids walked to the neighboring firehouse.
The children and their teachers huddled in bay areas where firetrucks are typically kept so they could be counted.
Two hours later, after Rosen had returned home, a woman knocked on his door. She said she was the mother of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis.
"Her face looked frozen in fear. She said to me, 'I heard there were six kids here. Is he here?'"
Rosen knew the names of the six children who he helped. His heart sank. "No, he's not here," Rosen told her.
As he recalled that encounter, Rosen wept. "She was just looking for a miracle, and I wanted to deliver her son to her -- and I couldn't."
Initial reports had indicated two adults were dead, but by late Friday afternoon parents of the slain children were told of their loss at a private room in the firehouse.
Back at the firehouse, Rosen looked at a list posted later and wept again when he saw two of the names: Victoria Soto and Jesse Lewis.
Before the tragedy, Rosen often read children's books to an elementary school in a neighboring town.
He'd recently come across a kid's book about a girl whose dog died in a fire. For weeks afterward, the girl smelled soot in her dreams and couldn't sleep. Then, one night a one-eyed cat jumped into her bed, cuddled with her and purred. The cat's soothing purr helped her sleep for the first time.
"The book doesn't end with a rainbow," he said. "It ends with hope in the sense of the continuity of her healing."
He couldn't help but wonder: What will be Newtown's one-eyed cat?
"The one-eyed cat is here," he said. "I don't know what it is yet."
The son of Orthodox Jews from Ukraine, Rosen hasn't been to synagogue in more than 40 years. But he said God delivered six angels to him that day. "This experience has made me spiritual," he said. "I want to show those children that there is light.
"Let the goodness of the children, their essential innocence and goodness and energy -- let them provide us with a pathway," he said. "That's what I want the gift of these children to be."
'So many angels'
The McDonnells were overcome when they first saw Grace's white casket at the funeral home. "You felt like the floor was falling out beneath you and your breath was taken away," her mother said.
But then, they pulled out Sharpies of all colors and began drawing: peace signs, ice cream cones, lighthouses, sea gulls. The family said it looked like it was covered in graffiti by the time they were done.
"We had to take great joy in knowing that when we walked in there it was so white, and our breath was taken away," Lynn McDonnell said. "But when we walked out of there, it was like we had joy again. It had so much color."
The family also brought Grace's favorite pocketbook, seashells, hair bows and flip-flops, as well as her sunglasses and a frying pan. Her father placed his New York Yankees cap with her. Grace loved Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney -- the family gave her music from both.