LUMBERTON — Every Fourth of July, Dawn Prevatte would happily pluck red raspberries from her neighbor’s garden. She remembers the brightness of their rippled skin and the tangy sweetness of their juice.
That fruit was part of her what she recalls as magical summers, which were full of carnivals and neighborhood block parties. She remembers smiling people. Mostly, she remembers a happy town.
The happy town was Newtown, Conn.
Yes, that Newtown, where on Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and five adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, a massacre that occurred after the gunman killed his mother. The slaughter ended when Lanza turned the gun on himself.
Prevatte speaks protectively of Newtown, where she spent much of her childhood.
“I don’t want Newtown to be tarnished because of one sick person. It is truly a wonderful town,” said Prevatte, who now lives in Lumberton, next door to her mother, Huntress Douglass. “So wonderful in fact, I would take my kids back there to live in a heartbeat. I’d leave tomorrow if I could.”
Prevatte, 47, an employee of Doug’s Appliances, lived in Newtown with her parents from 1969 until 1979, and until age 13 attended St. Rose’s, a private Catholic school about two and half miles from where Sandy Hook Elementary is today. Watching the night vigil held at St. Roses’ on the news this past Sunday left her overflowing with emotion; she remembers walking those steps just decades earlier.
“I had the best school,” Prevatte said. “I had the best friends. I just loved it. I fought tooth and nail with my parents to not leave.”
Prevatte welled up with tears as the Dec. 14 events were brought into her home at The Oaks. She recognized the school. She recognized the streets. While the people had changed, it still felt like she was a part of it — that it was happening in her hometown.
“I was in shock. I couldn’t believe something like that would happen in Newtown,” said Prevatte, who last visited the town about three years ago.
Prevatte has seen Newtown rally once, and is confident it will again.
“When my daddy got sick with cancer, the town joined together to help us,” Prevatte said. “I know they will rally together and get through this with one another. I know they will help each other through.”
Living next door to her mother makes it easy to reminisce about the good days in Newtown.
Douglass, 84, spent her years in Newtown as a housewife and loved and admired the small population of 20,000, which has now grown to about 27,000.
“I would say it was your typical New England town,” Douglass said. “It was the best place to live and very safe for children. It’s the type of place you could let your kids go and ride their bicycle or go out and play without having to worry about them.”
Douglass says Newtown remains her favorite former home — so much in fact that her Lumberton home is adorned with Newtown nick-knacks.
“It is truly awful,” Douglass said. “It’s a wonderful place with wonderful people and I know they will rebound.”
Douglass said little had changed about the town when she last visited six years ago.
“The people were still just as friendly,” Douglass said. “The town was just as beautiful. It makes the sorrow I feel that much more terrible knowing it’s still such an amazing town.”
As the families in Newtown bury their dead, Prevatte and Douglass send their prayers.
“I would like them to know that I still love Newtown,” Douglass said. “I hurt for them and I wish them well. Newtown of all places can come back from this. I’ll always remember Newtown not for what happened, but what it means to me in my heart.”