After the flowers, condolences, and support from around the world, the police officers who dealt with the Connecticut school shooting have been given Christmas off, thanks to generous colleagues.

Newtown shooting: Christmas spirit allows police a day off (R)

They have been working around the clock after one of the most horrific mass killings in living memory. But as messages of sympathy and solidarity flood into the small Connecticut town where 26 young children and teachers were shot dead, Newtown's police officers are getting some respite.

In an entirely grassroots effort, officers from neighbouring communities have got together to take over the town's policing needs for a day, so that their Newtown colleagues can spend Christmas with their families.

The police department spokesman, Sergeant Steve Santucci, said: "They've actually been non-stop with their aid. It's pretty amazing." And, he confirmed that thanks to their fellow officers, the entire Newtown force would be able to take the day off.

Lt Bob Kozowlsky, from nearby Shelton, told CNN: "When something like this happens, it's a police thing. We'll always try to help out neighbouring towns. Any time there's a tragedy, we'll try our best to lend a helping hand."

He said his colleagues had pitched in with everything, from directing traffic to administrative tasks, offering some space to come to terms with what happened: the endless funerals, the grief of families, the comfort of strangers. They are also donating any overtime pay they might get to charities helping the victims and families caught up in the shooting.

The emotional toll of the massacre is clear: one of the first-responders at the scene, Police Chief Michael Keehoe had visited Sandy Hook school before and had read to some of the children. He told CBS "I was devastated, absolutely devastated... you feel a sense of guilt that you weren't there quick enough."

Residents in the town have lit candles outside their homes in memory of the victims: trees near the school were hung with empty Christmas stockings, bearing the names of children who died. Other makeshift memorials have become a sea of flowers, dolls and teddies.

Well wishers have also been generous with financial donations: one fund connected to the tragedy has already received more than $3m, while a University of Connecticut scholarship fund has raised $500,000.

There have been countless offers of practical help, including a team of counsellors who travelled down from Maine.

And amid the mourning, the calls for action on gun controls are still as strong, as local rabbi Shaul Praver explained: "We seek not to be the town of tragedy. But, we seek to be the town where all the great changes started."

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News