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Nervous parents send kids back to school in Newtown

David Friedman / NBC News

Easton police officer J. Sollazzo greets parents and students returning to Hawley Elementary School on Tuesday in Newtown, Conn.

Hearts were heavy and security was tight as thousands of children in Newtown, Conn., returned to school Tuesday for the first time since a gunman killed 20 students and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary.

It was a tiny glimmer of normalcy in a town that was also burying two more youngsters, but officials made it clear this was no ordinary school day.

“This is a day to start healing,” Newtown High School Principal Charles Dumais wrote in an e-mail to parents before six schools opened two hours later than usual, with police officers and counselors on hand.

Sandy Hook, where a rifle-toting Adam Lanza turned two classrooms into a shooting gallery on Friday, remains a crime scene, with no indication if its 600 students will ever return to the building. Preparations are being made for them to use a school building in a neighboring town in the interim.

At Hawley Elementary, Keith Muckell said he felt “deep sadness” as he dropped off his 8-year-old daughter, Shannon, but he knew he couldn’t keep her “in a bubble.”

“I told her I loved her, kissed her, told the teacher to just take care of these guys. And he was like, ‘We got it,’” Muckell said.

More victims of the mass shooting last week at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn., will be laid to rest Tuesday. Meanwhile, more details emerge about the gunman. TODAY's Natalie Morales reports.

He said that as Newtown’s children head back to school, he hopes the nation learns a gun-control lesson from the horrific tragedy that rocked the quiet bedroom community.

“I just hope that this is sort of a tipping point in some way to really do something meaningful," he said. "I am a hunter, a bow hunter just so you know, but I can't imagine why anybody would want these assault rifles. It just doesn't seem to me to make any sense."

Newtown High School senior P.J. Hickey told The Associated Press that being with friends would help him cope with the tragedy. He said there were would be “no joy” in school – but also, at least for him, no fear.

Boy died in arms of his favorite teacher

“This is where I feel most at home,” he said. “I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world.”

Newtown Police Lt. George Sinko said the town prepared for “a lot of apprehension” from parents.

"We just had a horrific tragedy. We had babies sent to school that should be safe and they weren't," Sinko said. "You can't help but think ... if this could happen again."

Even as schools were reopening, two more kids -- 6-year-olds Jessica Rekos and James Mattioli -- were being laid to rest.

Wakes also were scheduled Tuesday for Charlotte Bacon and Daniel Barden and for teacher Victoria Soto, 27, hailed as a hero for shielding her students in a closet.

Funeral directors from throughout Connecticut have come forward to help the grieving town, another example of support that's so desperately needed. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

On Monday, the first two funerals for shooting victims were held, with Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both 6, laid to rest in tiny coffins.

Pinto so idolized New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz that he was buried in his jersey. Cruz visited the Pinto home on Tuesday and tweeted in the afternoon: "Much love to the entire Pinto family. Great people with huge hearts. I'm sorry again for your loss. Looking at life through a different lens "

The slain children’s parents have been releasing statements praising school staffers and emergency responders.

Full coverage: Tragedy at Sandy Hook

The family of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley, a special needs student, said they chose Newtown for its excellent schools and “shall never regret this choice.”

“Dylan's teacher, Vicki Soto, was warm and funny and Dylan loved her dearly.  We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy,” they added.

The father of Emilie Parker, 6, said he hoped her memory would inspire Americans to do good.

“Remember these beautiful children; keep them close to our hearts. Do not let their bright shining faces become extinguished,” he wrote.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has called for a moment of silence on Friday at 9:30 a.m., exactly one week after massacre, one of the deadliest school schootings in U.S. history. Twenty-six church bells would be rung, one for each life lost.

David Friedman / NBC News

A nation mourns after the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history at Sandy Hook Elementary, which left 20 children and six staff members dead.

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