By Emma Lacey-Bordeaux, CNN
Follow on Twitter: @CNNEmma
Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.
Newtown, Connecticut (CNN) - Six months ago, a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and took 26 lives. The nation was stunned and President Barack Obama teared up while speaking about the situation.
Since then, Newtown has become a shorthand of sorts. Many argue that Newtown marks a turning point in political discussions about guns and mental health. Beyond that national discussion, we wondered about the town itself.
CNN's Wayne Drash and I recently visited Newtown. After days spent interviewing residents, attending meetings and sitting in diners, we started to notice a couple patterns. First, many people in Newtown can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news.
First Selectman Pat Llodra was in her office:
[:56] "At about 9:35 or so I got a call through dispatch," she recalls.
That day Llodra and dozens of others ended up at a firehouse near the school. Parents, elected officials and police all were there, all waiting for final word. In the early hours of December 15 came news that 26 people perished.
Llodra and others paint a haunting picture of those hours, the terrible waiting and the raw emotion. They say those moments will remain with them forever.
Across Newtown, people also have much to say about what's happening today and what changes they'd like to see in the future.
Neil Heslin lost his only son on December 14. These days, he says, nothing makes him feel better. Still, as he looks ahead, he's driven to push for change. He wants tighter gun laws and more attention paid to mental health:
[4:24] "I didn't have the opportunity to defend him against Adam Lanza," he says, referring to his son Jesse, "possibly if changes come it'll help protect other children."
Across town sitting in his synagogue, Rabbi Shaul Praver says people in Newtown have grown weary of syrupy condolences:
[5:32] "People don't want to be looked at as freaks, you know. We're just normal people that this unusual thing happened to."
Like Heslin and many others in town, Praver says he won't feel satisfied until change comes about.
[6:08] "Newtown doesn't want to be remembered as the town of the tragedy, we want to be remembered as a bridge to a new and kinder world."
Listen to the player above to hear Neil Heslin, First Selectman Pat Llodra and Rabbi Shaul Praver on Newtown's past, present and future in their own words.