Hundreds of people attended a mass Friday night at a church in Newtown, Connecticut, paying tribute to the victims of the elementary school massacre that left at least 27 dead.

The church was so packed that dozens of people crowded outside the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church Ä just a mile from the Sandy Hook elementary school where the tragedy took place.

“This is a kind of community, when things like that happen, they really pull together,” Monsignor Robert Weiss said as he closed the special service he convened after hearing news of the slaughter.

“As so many people don't have extended family, friends become very important. And you see evidence of that tonight,” he added.

As Weiss spoke, many outside the church stood in silence, still in shock over the attack by the heavily armed young gunman who killed 26 people, including 20 small children, before dying.

Some lit candles and others joined hands in a large circle and sang Christmas songs.

David Connors, father of triplets, all of whom were at the school during the shooting, brought his children to the Mass.

“It's hard. I've never imagined a thing like that could happen here,” he told AFP, though he said the children, two boys and a girl, were doing well.

When the gunshots began, they “heard noises. But they were in a separate part of the building” and were evacuated to a fire station near the school, he explained.

For Ray Horvath, a retiree who volunteers at the Connecticut Department of Education in Newtown, the mass was comforting, even though he is not religious.

“It's nice to see the concern of all these people,” he said, fighting tears.

“I wish I was a person of faith because it would sustain me, but I don't have it.” - Sapa-AFP