The door to the shuttered mental hospital swings open onto a scene of decay: Chunks of fallen plaster and mold-infested insulation rest on the floor of a once magnificent room.
Chandeliers have given way to crumbling ceilings. Walls are stained from rain running down the sides after two decades of neglect.
Standing amid the ruins, it's hard not to think about Adam Lanza, our mental health system -- and whether it failed him and the people of Newtown.
The hilltop campus of Fairfield Hills, a former Connecticut state mental institution that closed in 1995 after more than 60 years, overlooks the community.
To the left, about a half mile down Church Hill Road, stands the National Sports Shooting Foundation, a lobbying arm for the gun industry. To the right and around a few bends sits Sandy Hook Elementary School, the site of the horrific massacre of 26 people, including 20 children.
It seems like the crossroads of tragic irony -- a closed mental hospital, headquarters of a powerful gun group and the Sandy Hook school, all within about three miles and at the center of national debate.
It's also home to Pat Llodra's office.
Llodra is the Republican first selectman of Newtown, the equivalent of a town mayor; her office is in the former hospital's refurbished dining hall.
The sprawling campus, which once housed as many as 5,000 patients, is a network of massive brick buildings. Some, like Llodra's office, have been remodeled and are used for a new purpose. Others are crumbling relics, a reminder of how the mentally ill were once housed in America.
The irony isn't lost on Llodra, who was in her office at 9:35 a.m. on December 14 when she was notified through emergency dispatch of "a significant event at Sandy Hook school."
Today, a teddy bear sits on a shelf in her office, next to a "Town of Newtown" commemorative plate and a Sandy Hook school baseball cap, adorned with a green ribbon to honor those who died.
Before Sandy Hook, Llodra had once liked target shooting. The level of concentration it took to hit a target was exhilarating and rewarding.
Now she's put gun control in her sights. She feels compelled to speak out on behalf of her town and the victims of the massacre.
And Llodra won't relent.
"The way in which these children were lost was so horrific and so violent and so incomprehensible that even today -- every day, it will strike me at some point that, 'Wow, this really happened.'"
The 70-year-old grandmother has taken on lawmakers in Hartford and Washington about the need to curb assault weapons, and she's seen mixed results. The Connecticut General Assembly banned more than 100 types of military-style weapons and magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of bullets.
Congress, on the other hand, refused to act. Senators in April defeated a bipartisan measure that would have expanded background checks to gun shows and online sales.
Representatives from the nearby shooting foundation approached Llodra shortly after the massacre about what it believed might be common ground on gun control, but the meeting didn't last long.
"I'm OK that they have their own agenda," Llodra says. "I have mine, but I don't want to try to be persuaded that there's common ground, because there is not."
Looking out for children has always been foremost in Llodra's life. As a young mother, she joined the PTA to be more active in her kids' schooling. She eventually became a teacher and then a principal, a powerful maternal figure dedicated to her students. Among her highest honors was being named a fellow for The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, a prestigious award to help further shape educators into national leaders.
Upon retirement, the long-time Newtown resident figured she'd give public service a whirl. She served two terms on the town's legislative council before running for the town's highest position.
"And here I am."
One of seven children reared on a farm in Massachusetts, Llodra grew up around guns.
But she has strayed from many in her party with her desire for expanded background checks and a ban on military-style weapons. As a lifelong educator, she always felt high-powered guns were too easily available, but "this event just galvanized that thinking for me."
"If the horror of this event -- seeing 20 innocent 6-year-olds be shot down by a crazed killer -- if that isn't enough to change a legislator's heart and mind and do what is right and needed, then I don't know what could change that person."