NEWTOWN - The dessert was free, the waitress said. It was meant as a remembrance.
Grace McDonnell was a creative 7-year-old who loved painting, the beach, and her big brother, Jack. She was among the 20 Sandy Hook Elementary children shot to death Dec. 14, and her memorial was held the following week.
She also loved cupcakes, so the ones given at a restaurant near her school were for her.
Since the shooting, Newtown has been overwhelmed with gifts from around the world. The pies from Iowa; the boxes of Girl Scout cookies near the massive vigil; the more than $2.8 million in the official donation fund.
But the cupcakes given to strangers on Friday weren't from out of town. Grace's family wanted to share them.
The 7-year-old's memorial mass was held that morning at St. Rose of Lima, the Catholic Church that several of the victims attended. Afterward, Grace's family went to an upstairs room at the Stone River Grille to share a meal, staff said. It was there where a waitress said they talked about how Grace loved cupcakes and had the idea to share them with people dining near Sandy Hook Elementary.
Across from the memorial, Stone River Grille is one of the few restaurants in the core of Sandy Hook without a "No Media" sign.
It's understandable. Reporters from around the world flocked there, blocking traffic, begging for interviews, and sometimes breaking the mournful silence with live television shots. The parking lot was flooded with satellite trucks. CNN's Anderson Cooper had been there, along wiith other big network names.
Each of those outlets had heard about the generous gifts others were sending to Sandy Hook, and how most of the victim's families wanted to mourn in privacy.
Maybe that's why it seemed so remarkable to Friday night patrons at the Stone River Grille – the remaining reporters, the regulars, and others – that McDonnell's family had shown such kindness.
As the wait staff gave each patron a cupcake – white cake, chocolate frosting, pink and white sprinkles – they explained that Grace was cherished by her parents, Christopher and Lynn Zapf McDonnell. A waitress told how the little girl would have loved those cupcakes, and how her parents wanted to share that love.
"Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family," relatives said in a statement. "Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss."
But it was their thoughtful expression that brought moments of happiness to a mournful community.
Hearst Newspapers photographer Joshua Trujillo contributed to this article. Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Casey on Twitter at twitter.com/mcnerthney.