MONROE, Conn. - Classes resumed Thursday for the students of the Newtown, Connecticut, school where a gunman last month burst in and killed 20 children and six adults before killing himself in the second largest school shooting in U.S. history.
With their school still being treated as a crime scene, the more than 400 students of Sandy Hook Elementary School attended classes in a neighbouring town.
Returning students, teachers and administrators were met by a large police presence outside their new school, an overhauled middle school that had been shuttered for nearly two years. Several officers guarded the entrance and checked IDs of parents dropping off children.
Law enforcement officers guarding the new school called it "the safest school in America."
The school district said parents who wanted to be close to their children were welcome to visit and stay in classrooms or an auditorium throughout the day.
Newtown Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials would do their best to make the students feel at ease.
"We will be doing a normal day," she said.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, killed his mother at their Newtown home before driving to the school. He had no known connection to the school, and police haven't released any details about a motive.
On Wednesday, the students and their families were welcomed at an open house at their new school, which was renamed as the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Students received gift boxes with toys inside and shared joyful reunions with teachers.
Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the school and even raised bathroom floors so the smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students' backpacks and other belongings that were left behind following the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.
Students found the same chairs and desks, when possible. Their classroom walls were painted the same colours and hung with the same pictures. Other details, such as the location of bookshelves and cubby holes, were replicated as much as possible.
Several signs welcoming the Sandy Hook students to their new school were posted along the road leading to it in a rural, mostly residential neighbourhood. One said "Welcome Sandy Hook Elementary Kids," while a similar sign added "You are in our prayers."
Sarah Caron, 32, whose son was at the school on the day of shooting, said he knows what happened and has undergone counselling. She said her 5-year-old daughter, Paige, attends afternoon kindergarten at the school and has been dealing with nightmares about "snakes and bears and coyotes."
"She wasn't at school that day but was with me when we went to look for William at the firehouse," Caron said. "Unfortunately, she heard more about it than I wish she did."
Intellectually, Caron said, she knows her children will be very safe at their new school.
"But, emotionally," she said. "It's very hard to turn off the little 'What if?' that kind of hangs on and says, 'Well, you know what, December 14th started out as a normal day, too."
Associated Press writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report from Hartford, Connecticut.