(AP) — Lilly Rosell contemplated keeping her 7-year-old daughter at home on the first day of classes since the Connecticut elementary school massacre, but she ultimately decided, like so many other parents, there was only so much she could do to keep her daughter safe.
"I'm panicking here to be honest," Rosell, of Miami, said as she anxiously surveyed her daughter's campus. "It's now about being in the prayer closet a little more often."
Most of the nation fell back into the familiar, if newly raw, routine of dropping off children at school, all too aware that a mass shooting can happen anywhere, at any time.
School districts across the U.S. increased patrols and security plans as teachers and students nervously returned to class after a gunman stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, killing 26 people and then himself. Nerves were frayed as administrators and police responded to reports of suspicious activity.
At least three schools were on alert in Ohio after threatening comments were made on Facebook and Twitter. In Ridgefield, Conn., swarms of parents picked up their children and police were at each school after a report of a suspicious person at a nearby train station. In Philadelphia, officers rushed to a high school after security officers mistook a student's umbrella for a gun. And in Tampa, Fla., the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office questioned students after a bullet was found on a school bus.
Chicago resident Melissa Tucker said she only sent her children to school after assurances from administrators that extra safety precautions were made.
"I was actually going to keep them home today," she said.
One school district in western Pennsylvania went so far as to get a court order over the weekend so it could arm officers in each of its schools Monday. The board had recently voted to let officers have guns but decided to expedite the process. The court order affected the Butler Area School District and the South Butler County School District, both about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Schools held a moment of silence and flew flags at half-staff. Meanwhile, teachers and administrators handled the psychological toll of the shooting.
At the Global Concepts Charter School in Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo, Principal David Ehrle fielded calls from parents who told him they had shielded their children from news coverage over the weekend. The parents wanted to know whether the kids would hear about it from their teachers. He told them they would not.
"Certainly, you can't stop kids from talking on the bus or at the lunch table, but as a school we're not, if you will, sponsoring educating about it," he said.
Ehrle said teachers at the kindergarten through eighth-grade school were told to assure kids who asked that the school was safe and send any apprehensive students to a counselor if necessary. Otherwise, the school was making a point to stick to routines.
"Often, normalcy is the most comforting thing for the students," he said. "That was the message that we sent out over the weekend to the staff is, that we need to continue on doing what we've always done."
American history teacher Richard Cantlupe said he would remind his students his No. 1 job was to keep them out of harm's way and that, "Just like the teachers at Newtown, I would do whatever I had to do to keep them safe."
Rosell said she didn't tell her daughter any details about the shooting, but did try to prepare her in case there was ever a dangerous situation in the future. She advised her daughter to dive onto the floor if she ever saw someone with a gun or people screaming.
"You mean like hide under my desk?" she said her daughter asked.
No, Rosell told her, explaining she should pretend to be lifeless on the floor instead and not move until she comes to get her. Her daughter looked at her with a face of confusion.
"You could tell she was lost," Rosell said.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Va.; Carla K. Johnson in Chicago; Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Ala.; Brett Zongker in Washington; Bob Christie in Phoenix; Holbrook Mohr in Jackson, Miss.; Amy Forliti in Minneapolis; Michelle Nealy in Chicago; Susan Haigh in Norwich, Conn.; Carolyn Thompson in Lackawanna, N.Y.; Samatha Critchell in Ridgefield, Conn.; and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, S.C.