NEWTOWN, Conn. — Since escaping a gunman's rampage at their elementary school, the 8-year-old Connors triplets have suffered nightmares, jumped at noises and clung to their parents a little more than usual.
Now parents like David Connors are bracing to send their children back to school, nearly three weeks after the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. It won't be easy — for the parents or the children, who heard the gunshots that killed 20 of their classmates and six educators.
"I'm nervous about it," Connors said. "It's unchartered waters for us. I know it's going to be difficult."
Classes are starting Thursday at a repurposed school in the neighboring town of Monroe, where the students' desks have been taken along with backpacks and other belongings that were left behind in the chaos following the shooting on Dec. 14.
An army of workers has been getting the school ready, painting, moving furniture and even raising the floors in the bathrooms of the former middle school so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets.
Connors, a 40-year-old engineer, felt reassured after recently visiting the new setup at the former Chalk Hill school in Monroe. He said his children were excited to see their backpacks and coats, and that the family was greeted by a police officer at the door and grief counselors in the hallways.
Teachers will try to make it as normal a school day as possible for the children, schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said.
"We want to get back to teaching and learning," she said. "We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there. All in all, we want the kids to reconnect with their friends and classroom teachers, and I think that's going to be the healthiest thing."
Connors, who had a baby-sitter take his children to the bus stop before the shooting, said he'll probably take the third-graders to the bus the first few days.
"I think that they need to get back into a normal routine as quickly as possible," he said. "If you're hovering over them at all times, it almost intensifies the fear for them."
His children, who escaped unharmed, ask questions about the gunman.
"It's hard for us to say why," Connors said. "That's kind of what we tell them. This person wasn't well, was sick and didn't get the help he needed."
Connors said his children are excited to go back to school but predicted they might be nervous as the first day approaches. He hopes the grief counseling services continue, he said.
"It's going to be a long road back," Connors said. "Back to what I guess is the biggest question. Everyone keeps throwing that word around the new normal. What does the new normal look like? I think everybody kind of has to define that for themselves."