Killed in Friday's horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School were 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults. The shooter's mother was also killed Friday. Stories of the adult heroes of this tragedy and tributes to the children who lost their lives are being shared on Facebook and Twitter, by the families and in obituaries. Following are reports about the victims, gathered from news sources and Courant reporters.
Charlotte Bacon, Age 6
Charlotte Bacon, who would have turned 7 in February, was anything but shy.
"The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life, and the unique way she expressed her individuality usually with the color pink," a statement released by her family said. "Charlotte never met and animal she didn't love, and since the age of two wanted to be a veterinarian."
She was smart, outgoing, precocious and persistent, said her uncle, John Hagen, of Minneapolis.
"She had a big personality. She could carry on a conversation with any adult. She challenged my sister every day. She knew how to get what she wanted."
Case in point: Charlotte's mother, Joann, bought her a pink dress and white boots for the holidays. Charlotte had been begging to wear her new outfit early. On the last day of Charlotte's life, her mom finally gave in.
Charlotte had curly, dark red hair. She loved going to school. She was so smart, Hagen said, that her parents were thinking about putting her in a special private school because they worried she wasn't being challenged enough. "This girl was definitely going places," her uncle said.
Charlotte liked a physical challenge, too, and enjoyed practicing Tae Kwon Do with her father and brother, especially "kicking and throwing punches," according to her family.
Another story that stands out in Hagen's mind: the time the Bacons were vacationing with extended family at a lake. Charlotte was 4 or 5. "I watched her jump off a pontoon into the water without any hesitation," Hagen said. "She just did it."
Charlotte was born in the Chicago area, a couple of years before Joann and husband Joel relocated to Sandy Hook. Joann is a stay-at-home mom. Joel, who holds a doctorate, works as a scientist in New York, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Their 9-year-old son, Guy, also was at Sandy Hook on Friday but wasn't harmed.
Despite having only one sibling, Charlotte had a big family. Joel is one of three brothers. His parents are retired missionaries who now live close to him. Joann, who grew up in Minnesota, is the youngest of six children.
Charlotte also loved being a girl scout, and her mom was her troop leader.
"There were 10 girls in the group," Hagen said. "Only five are left."
-- Washington Post; Courant Staff Report
Statement released by Charlotte Bacon's family:
Charlotte Helen Bacon is the beloved daughter of Joel and JoAnn Bacon, and the sister of Guy Bacon. Charlotte was an extraordinarily gifted six year old who filled her family each day with joy and love. The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life, and the unique way she expressed her individuality usually with the color pink. Charolette never met and animal she didn't love, and since the age of two wanted to be a Veterinarian. She also enjoyed practicing Tae Kwon Do weekly with her Dad and brother where she relished kicking and throwing punches!
Charlotte has left a place in her entire extended family's hearts that will never be replaced. The family is profoundly grateful for the thoughts and prayers of the many friends around the world who expressed their sympathies. They trust in the depths of God's grace, and with confidence, know that Charolette rests in God's arms.
Daniel Barden, Age 7
Daniel Barden was fulll of kindness, an "old soul," according to his family.
Daniel's parents, Mark and Jackie, along with his brother James, 12, talked with Katie Couric about his remarkable empathy, his mother telling the TV host, "how unusual he was."
"Daniel was fearless in his pursuit of happiness and life," his family wrote in a statement released to the media. "He earned his ripped jeans and missing two front teeth."
"He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world," the statement said. "Our hearts break over losing him and for the many other families suffering loss."
The Bardens are often shuttling their children – including Daniel, James and their 10-year-old sister, Natalie -- from one activity to the next, said friends, colleagues and neighbors who admired their ability to keep up with their children's active schedule. This summer, Daniel scored the final goal in the last game of the soccer season. He loved to swim, and his mother's Facebook page featured a photo of her three children smiling at the beach. On Sunday morning, she posted a public note on Facebook saying, "Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers."
Jackie Barden is a second-grade teacher at Pawling Elementary School in Pawling, N.Y. She is one of the school district's reading specialists.
"She is a wonderful mom," said Lynn Maloney, who teaches second grade in the classroom next to Barden's. "She was extremely close to her children. She's a teacher and I'm a teacher, and children are really the centers of our world. She adored her family, and I am sure she must be devastated, like any mom."
It was around 9:30 a.m. when Barden learned there was a tragedy at her son's elementary school, colleagues said. A guidance counselor drove a shaken Barden back to Connecticut, where she learned about the loss of her 7-year-old son.
Jackie's husband, Mark Barden, is a rock guitarist who plays at places such as Proud Mary's, a local bar, according to Javier Mendizabal, who works there. A forum was set up on a message board called thegearpage.net to offer condolences. One man referred to Mark Barden as a "kind, gentle and humble man, as well as one of the most talented guitarists I know."
On Saturday, friends and family members gathered in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown to visit the Bardens. A local pastor prayed with them.
A bio on Jackie Barden's school Web page says the family has a pet ball python named Todd and a tortoise named Queenie.
Even for neighbors who did not know them intimately, such as Peter Bernson, there is an image they would see each morning they are sure they will miss — a smiling, laughing boy with a reddish-brown mop top and missing two front teeth, hoisted on his father's shoulders, headed to the school bus stop.
-- Washington Post; Courant Staff Report
Rachel D'Avino, Age 29
Rachel D'Avino was pursuing a dream of helping and serving others when she lost her life during the Newtown shootings.
At Sandy Hook, D'Avino was an intern, offering one-on-one instruction to a child with special needs. She was also a student at University of Saint Joseph, where she was pursuing a graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis.
In a statement from the family, Mary D'Avino, Rachel's mother, said she knew that one day Rachel would have the letters, Ph.D, following her name.
"Now instead of 'Dr.' in front of her name, she'll have 'St.' in front of it. She's up there with those kids," Mary said.
Those who knew her at the school remember her fondly, as both a professional and passionate young woman eager to work with children. One of her professor's, Deirdre Fitzgerald, described her as a dynamic individual, respected by her peers and full of potential.
"She was a leading force in the group," said Fitzgerald in a statement. "She just sparked with ideas and potential."
Christine Carmody, Rachel's aunt, recalled her laughter.
"She had the greatest sense of humor," Carmody said in a statement from the family. "She found humor in almost anything. She was almost like an actress and she loved dressing up when she was younger. She was a hoot."
Carmody also remembered Rachel's love for animals.
"She loved her dogs, but she also loved frogs, snakes and mice," Carmody said. "Not the animals most people like,"
She had been an intern at Sandy Hook for just over a week, according to an interview Fox 13 News in Tampa Bay had with Pastor Ken Whitten, the senior pastor at Carmody's church in Lutz, Fla.
Pastor Whitten says D'Avino's aunt is feeling pain over her loss. Carmody told him D'Avino's boyfriend had just asked her parents for her hand in marriage and was planning to propose on Christmas Eve.
"We will pray especially for Christine," Whitten added. "But we'll be praying for all of the victims of this senseless tragedy."
-- Jenny Wilson; Courant Staff Report
Statement from the family of Rachel Marie D'Avino:
"We are heartbroken over the loss of our beautiful daughter, sister, cousin and friend. Rachel was a true hero who died protecting the children she loved.
"We are thankful for the outpouring of love and support from our family, friends and neighbors."
Rachel's mother, Mary D'Avino, said she knew that one day Rachel would have the letters, Ph.D, following her name. Rachel was studying for her doctorate degree at University of St. Joseph's of Hartford.
"Now instead of 'Dr.' in front of her name, she'll have 'St.' in front of it. She's up there with those kids," Mary D'Avino said.
Mary D'Avino and Rachel's sisters, Hannah and Sarah, met with President Obama on Sunday in Newtown.
"It was just so beautiful," Mary D'Avino said of the ceremony. She said President met individually with each family and spent time talking to them.
Rachel's aunt, Christine Carmody, recalled her niece's love of laughter.
"She had the greatest sense of humor. She found humor in almost anything. She was almost like an actress and she loved dressing up when she was younger. She was a hoot."
Christine Carmody also recalled Rachel's love of animals.
"She loved her dogs, but she also loved frogs, snakes and mice – not the animals most people like," she said.
Christine Carmody said the family knew at a young age that Rachel would become an educator.
"She always wanted to work with kids."
Olivia Rose Engel, Age 6
On the "Friends of the Engel Family Fund" Facebook page, there were photos of Olivia Rose Engel, 6, sitting behind the steering wheel of a boat with sunglasses. Another showed her wearing a set of wings, holding a golden star over her head.
In nearly every Facebook photograph of Olivia, the girl is smiling.
"Beautiful little angel," commented a Facebook friend.
Family pictures were tradition for the Engel family, who at least twice this year met with photographer Tim Nosenzo for portraits. Over the summer they gathered at the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club in Westport, where the family posed for photos at the club, along the shore and on a boat.
"Always a nice way to spend a summer morning," Nosenzo wrote on his professional Web site, where he posted the images last month.
In November, Nosenzo photographed the family again -- this time for what Nosenzo described as "our annual Christmas card photo shoot" in Tarrywile Park in Danbury.
"This is a tragedy beyond understanding," Nosenzo wrote on his Web site Saturday.
Her parents and other family members declined requests for interviews over the weekend, but Brian Engel released a statement about his daughter.
Olivia's favorite colors were pink and purple, he said. Her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb. She loved school and did well in math and reading. She liked to draw and took art classes. She played tennis and soccer, and liked musical theater.
Olivia was a Daisy Girl Scout, enjoyed swimming, and took dance lessons in ballet and hip hop
She was an active member of her family's church, St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, where she was supposed to appear in a Nativity play as an angel over the weekend. Every night, she led grace at her family's dinner table.
"She was insightful for her age and had a great sense of humor," the family statement said. "She was a grateful child who was always appreciative and never greedy... She was a 6-year-old who had a lot to look forward to."
A family member serving as spokesman for Olivia's parents, Brian and Shannon Engel, said he had been communicating with the family by text messages since yesterday, asking what he and other could do to help.
"It's the same message," John Engel said. "Just pray for us."
Josephine Gay, Age 7
Called "Joey" by her family, Josephine Gay celebrated her seventh birthday the Tuesday before she was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school.
In a photo circulating on the internet, Josephine peeked out from under a green, toy traffic cone, smiling with her glasses perched on the tip of her nose.
Josephine was autistic, severely apraxic and did not speak, but "she touched the lives of so many around her: teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her," according to a statement from her parents, Michele and Bob Gay.
Josephine was born in Maryland, according to her family, and grew up in a house full of Ravens fans, falling in love with color purple, which has become a theme for friends and family in remembering her.
"After her passing, many friends who visited wore purple clothing to honor her," the family statement said. "On Saturday a family friend tied purple balloons on the mailboxes on our street, and on Sunday the neighborhood children and her sisters and cousins released purple balloons with written messages of love to her in heaven."
Joey was social and affectionate; she smiled, she loved hugs, and she even had a wonderful sense of humor. Her spirit was indomitable. She participated in rigorous therapy and treatment on a daily basis without complaint. She loved to play with her Barbie dolls, iPad, and computer, swim, swing, and be anywhere her sisters were.
Josephine is survived by her parents as well as two sisters, Sophia and Marie, according to her obituary.
The family established Joey's Fund through the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism, with proceeds of the fund directed toward helping families raising autistic children.
-- Brian Dowling; Courant Staff Report
A family statement from Bob and Michele Gay, Josephine's parents:
On Friday, December 14, 2012, our beautiful daughter, Josephine Grace Gay, was killed in an unimaginable tragedy at her elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Joey, many of her friends, teachers, and school staff members were taken from our loving community. Joey turned 7 three days prior to this tragedy and was looking forward to celebrating at her birthday party with many of these friends the next day.
Although our family is devastated, we are deeply comforted in the knowledge that she is no longer scared or hurting and rests in the arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through His sufficient grace that we are able to get through this. Our innocent, trusting little girl stared into the face of unimaginable evil and overcame it in Christ. She was not alone in her courage.
Our small, close-knit community acted instantly. First responders from our town and those surrounding quickly removed surviving children and staff members from the scene. Connecticut state troopers have tended to our families around the clock, surrounding us with protection and compassion. Neighbors, religious communities, townspeople, and professionals are providing the care and love that we are so in need of now. We see this movement grow daily with acts of love and kindness pouring in from around the country and the world. We see how evil is defeated.
Since Joey's passing, we have received many media requests for our story and for pictures of our daughter. Although we are protecting our family's privacy during this time of healing, we believe it is important to share some of Joey's story. It will help us if others know what a special person she was and how she inspired everyone she met.
Joey was autistic and severely apraxic. She could not speak, yet she touched the lives of so many around her: teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her. Joey was social and affectionate; she smiled, she loved hugs, and she even had a wonderful sense of humor. Her spirit was indomitable. She participated in rigorous therapy and treatment on a daily basis without complaint. She loved to play with her Barbie dolls, iPad, and computer, swim, swing, and be anywhere her sisters were.
Josephine loved the color purple. Born in Maryland, she grew up in a family of Ravens fans and developed an affinity for all things purple. She rarely left the house without wearing something purple. After her passing, many friends who visited wore purple clothing to honor her. On Saturday a family friend tied purple balloons on the mailboxes on our street, and on Sunday the neighborhood children and her sisters and cousins released purple balloons with written messages of love to her in heaven.
We will not let this tragedy define her life. Instead, we will honor her inspiring and generous spirit. We have established Joey's Fund in her name through the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism. The proceeds of this fund will help families raising autistic children. It's our way of dealing
Dawn L. Hochsprung, Age 47
Praised as a model educator with a playful passion and infectious laugh, Dawn Hochsprung was hired to lead Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2010.
Mary Ann Jacob, a clerk in the library, said Hochsprung was a friend and "a really amazing woman and a great leader.'
"This is a huge loss," Jacob told reporters Saturday in Newtown. "We had a book fair a few weeks ago and she dressed up as the reading fairy and had a dress on with lights on it, and went around the classroom putting reading fairy dust on all the kids. She was just an amazing woman."
She added: "She was strong and fun, and the kids loved her. She was a wonderful woman. When you think about how our school is going to recover, you think about it needing leadership, and she was the person who most could have done that."
At the start of this school year at Sandy Hook, which has students from kindergarten through fourth grade, she told the Newtown Bee that she was "really excited about bringing a readers workshop into the mainstream of the program. ... We capitalize on [students'] love of reading and use that passion to advance their achievement."
Diane Day, a therapist at the school, told the Wall Street Journal that she was in a meeting with Hochsprung about 9:30 a.m. when they heard shots. Hochsprung and a school psychologist ran toward the sound of the gunfire, Day said.
Hochsprung was the assistant principal at the middle school where George Hochsprung was working as a 7th grade math teacher when the two met and fell in love more than a decade ago. In an interview with CNN Sunday night, George Hochsprung said he had to propose marriage six times before Dawn, more than 20 years his junior, said yes.
Surrounded by four of their grown daughters, George Hochsprung described for a CNN reporter the retirement home in the Adirondacks that the couple had bought and outfitted with extra bedrooms for visiting children and grandchildren.
"It was going to be Dawn's house, ultimately ... with all the children," he said, voice breaking. "And now it's me. I don't think I can do that."
Erica Lafferty, Dawn Hochsprung's daughter, told CNN her mother was a constant presence in her daughters' lives — "my rock."
"Every practice she was there," Erica said. "All of my sister's cheerleadering stuff, she was there. Every dance competition. She was doing homework on the bleachers, but she was there."
Lynn Wasik, whose daughter attends Sandy Hook, said Dawn Hochsprung could often be seen crouching down to speak to her students at eye level.
"She connected with the children," Wasik said.
Hochsprung maintained a Twitter account, from which she regularly kept her followers informed about what was happening at the school. Her last tweets were about setting up for a nonfiction book preview and her enjoyment of the 4th grade winter concert rehearsal – "a telnted group" she said.
— Kenneth R. Gosselin; Washington Post
Dylan Hockley, Age 6
Dylan Hockley smiles online in a series of family photos. He's Shrek, his mom writes. Or he's "Super Dylan" — posed in a Superman outfit. In other images, he poses with his brother, Jake.
According to news outlets in Great Britain, Dylan Hockley was born in Winchester, England, and his family moved from that country to Newtown in 2011. According to those reports his father is a native of Great Britain while his mother is American. Dylan's older brother was also a student at the school.
Dylan had lived across Yogananda Street from where the violence began. His neighbor, Nancy Lanza, was the mother of the suspected shooter — and apparently the first person killed Friday.
-- Ken Byron; Washington Post
Statement from the family of Dylan Hockley:
We want to give sincere thanks and appreciation to the emergency services and first responders who helped everyone on Friday, Dec. 14. It was an impossible day for us, but even in our grief we cannot comprehend what other people may have experienced.
The support of our beautiful community and from family, friends and people around the world has been overwhelming and we are humbled. We feel the love and comfort that people are sending and this gives our family strength. We thank everyone for their support, which we will continue to need as we begin this long journey of healing.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the other families who have also been affected by this tragedy. We are forever bound together and hope we can support and find solace with each other.Sandy Hook and Newtown have warmly welcomed us since we moved here two years ago from England. We specifically chose Sandy Hook for the community and the elementary school. We do not and shall never regret this choice. Our boys have flourished here and our family's happiness has been limitless.
We cannot speak highly enough of Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, exceptional women who knew both our children and who specifically helped us navigate Dylan's special education needs. Dylan's teacher, Vicki Soto, was warm and funny and Dylan loved her dearly. We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy. Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day. Though our hearts break for Dylan, they are also filled with love for these and the other beautiful women who all selflessly died trying to save our children.
Everyone who met Dylan fell in love with him. His beaming smile would light up any room and his laugh was the sweetest music. He loved to cuddle, play tag every morning at the bus stop with our neighbors, bounce on the trampoline, play computer games, watch movies, the color purple, seeing the moon and eating his favorite foods, especially chocolate. He was learning to read and was so proud when he read us a new book every day. He adored his big brother Jake, his best friend and role model.
There are no words that can express our feeling of loss. We will always be a family of four, as though Dylan is no longer physically with us, he is forever in our hearts and minds. We love you Mister D, our special gorgeous angel.
Madeleine F. Hsu, Age 6
Madeleine Hsu was a shy and quiet 6-year-old — but she would light up around dogs.
Karen Dryer, who lived on the same street as the Hsu family, would see Madeleine's mom waiting for her at the bus stop at 3:15 every afternoon. Dryer would wait too, for her son Logan, who is in kindergarten. Dryer usually brought the family's golden retriever with her.
"She would come off the bus and her face would light up when she saw the dog," Dryer said.
Madeleine was among the youngest victims in Newtown. She had just turned six in July, meaning just five victims were born after her.
Her mom would give her a big squeeze, and Madeleine would hug her little sister. "She was just an absolute doll," Dryer said. "She seemed very shy, but she was just so sweet."
Dryer described Hsu as a "very upbeat and kind" girl who favored bright dresses.
There wasn't much information readily available about Hsu. Attempts to reach her family and neighbors in Sandy Hook were unsuccessful. Dr. Matthew Belsmid, who was at the Hsu house on Saturday, told the Associated Press that Hsu's family did not want to comment.
Memorial Web pages appeared on Facebook and Legacy.com, but they didn't appear to be connected to Hsu's family. Instead, they showed the way that these tragedies can impact people a world away. Condolences were offered from across the country, with words of comfort sent to Sandy Hook from as far away as South Africa, the Phillippines and Israel.
The only publicly visible online comment that seemed to come from Hsu's family came in the form of a hauntingly simple photograph.
A Facebook account belonging to Arline Arnold, believed to be related to Hsu, had its profile picture changed on Friday night to show a young girl smiling brightly. In the picture, a pink bow in the young girl's hair matched the pink sweater she wore.
Several people offered their condolences to Hsu's family. A commenter named Christen posted to the account on Saturday night, calling Hsu "a beautiful little soul who was very loved, full of life and I know will be missed dearly by all who knew her."
-- Washington Post; Associated Press
Catherine V. Hubbard, Age 6
Besides her red hair, Catherine Violet Hubbard's most striking characteristic was her love of animals. She wanted to protect and care for them — an ambition the first-grader is fulfilling even in death.
In lieu of flowers, Catherine's parents, Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard, have asked people to donate money to the Animal Center, the Newtown animal shelter. The center is pooling the donations submitted in Catherine's name and will plan a project to honor her, according to Harmony Verna, the director of the center's board.
Verna said members of Catherine's family had adopted animals from the shelter in the past.
"We are so touched and warmed that this family could reach through their grief to do something for us," Verna said. "This little girl wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian, and these donors are helping make that dream come true in some way."
Family members declined to talk about Catherine, who was 6, but her parents released a statement saying they were "greatly saddened by the loss of our beautiful daughter."
Besides her love for animals, a death notice said Catherine's family will remember her for her constant smile.
Catherine was born June 8, 2006 and is survived by her older brother, Frederick William; her parents Matthew and Jennifer; her grandparents Susan and Leo Sullivan and her great-grandmother Geraldine Russell Holden, all of West Chester, Penn.; Nancy and Earl Hubbard of Chatham, Mass., along with four uncles, four aunts, and nine cousins survive Catherine.
"Her family prays that she, all the students of Sandy Hook Elementary, and all those affected by this brutal event find peace in their hearts," the family said in the obituary.
-- Ken Byron; Washington Post
Chase Kowalski, Age 7
Chase Kowalski loved to be outside riding his bicycle, running or playing baseball, according to his family and neighbors.
He competed in his first triathlon at age 6, according to his obituary. He was a Cub Scout, and was a "fun loving energetic boy that had a true love of life."
Kowalski's family "sends their prayers and thoughts to all of the families involved with this horrific event," the obituary said.
Just last week, he was visiting neighbor Kevin Grimes, telling him about completing — and winning — his first mini-triathlon.
"You couldn't think of a better child," Grimes said.
Grimes' own five children all attended Sandy Hook, too. Cars lined up outside the Kowalski's ranch home Saturday, and a state trooper's car idled in the driveway. Grimes spoke of the boy only in the present tense.
-- Shawn Beals
Nancy Lanza, Age 52
Nancy Lanza, the mother of shooter Adam Lanza, was killed Friday morning before her son shot his way into the Sandy Hook School
According to published reports, Lanza had grown up in New Hampshire, where her brother was a long-time police officer. Officials in Kingston, N.H., described her as a kind, considerate and loving person.
Lanza and her former husband, Peter Lanza, were divorced in 2009, according to court records.
It was not clear what Lanza did for a living and according to reports she was not working at the time of the shooting.
Friends and neighbors in Newtown said Lanza was a kind woman with a good sense of humor who participated in events like Labor Day parades. According to reports, Lanza was interested in gardening and took a special interest in in Christmas lights. She was also a member a group of women who met regularly to play bunco, a dice game.
The Lanzas lived on Yogananda Street, a hilly, affluent neighborhood to the east of town.
—Ken Byron; Brian Dowling
Jesse Lewis, Age 6
Kevin Samoskevich works in construction in Shelton and he often ran into Neil Heslin, a fellow building contractor, at the Dew Drop Donut shop in town. They'd exchange pleasantries over coffee and talk about available construction work. Heslin's son, Jesse Lewis, a happy 6 year old, was always beside him.
"He's a very nice guy, a very friendly man and always helpful," Samoskevich said. "We're all so shocked. I have his Facebook page up in front of me and I don't know what to write."
Jesse Lewis died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Heslin always brought his son with him to job sites during his construction work, Samoskevich said.
"He was a happy child," Samoskevich said. "A typical boy who was always in and out of things," on the job sites.
Samoskevich said the tragedy has had a deep impact in the Newtown area and surrounding communities.
"People are very upset here.They're numb. There's no happy smiles on anybody's faces," Samoskevich said. "People are crying."
"Jesse was such an incredible light," his mother, Scarlett Lewis, told the Wall Street Journal in an email Sunday. "So bright and full of love. He lived life with vigor and passion...brave and true."
"They told me he ran into the hall to help," Jesse's mother said in the e-mail. "I can only hope this meant he had less fear and went quickly in his bravery."
-- Washington Post; Courant Staff Report
Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, Age 6
Ana Grace Marquez-Greene died in the shootings while her older brother Isaiah, also at the school, escaped harm. She is the daughter of jazz musician and teacher Jimmy Greene, 37, and his wife Nelba Marquez Greene.
"She never walked anywhere," the family said in a statement Sunday evening. "Her mode of transportation was dance."
The couple, high school sweethearts, told the Courant in May that they chose Newtown because it was close to Greene's job and to the music scene in New York City, where Greene is in demand as a saxophone and flute player, and as a composer and arranger. Their remembrance of Ana Grace recalled the girl's musical gifts of melody and rhythm. "Ana's love for singing was evident before she was even able to talk."
Jimmy and Nelba Greene said that their daughter strengthened them through her love and generosity – noting that Ana would often leave love notes under their pillows "not on special occasions, but,
rather, on ordinary days."
When Ana's parents would bend down to kiss her, she would step back and pucker her lips, making it clear that she wanted to do the kissing, her parents said.
In 2009, Jimmy Greene included a song, "Ana Grace," about his daughter on the album, "Mission Statement."
— Donna Larcen; Owen McNally; Brian Dowling
Statement from the family of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene:
It is with immeasurable grief and heavy-heartedness that we mourn the loss of our precious angel, Ana Grace Marquez-Greene. She was taken from us far too soon in the horrific massacre enacted upon Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday morning December 14, 2012. She was 6 ½ years old.
In her short life, Ana strengthened us with her loving, generous joyful spirit. She routinely committed selfless acts of kindness: every drawing or craft project she began was envisioned not for her own enjoyment, but as a gift for another. She often left sweet notes that read, "I love you Mom and Dad," under our bedroom pillow – not on special occasions, but, rather, on ordinary days. She would not allow me to kiss her goodbye. Instead, when I bent down to kiss her, she would take a step backwards, poke out her lips and wait for me to lower my cheek -she made it clear that she wanted to do the kissing.
Ana's love for singing was evident before she was even able to talk. In a musical family, her gift for melody, pitch and rhythm stood out remarkably. And she never walked anywhere – her mode of transportation was dance. She danced from room to room and place to place. She danced to all the music she heard, whether in air or in her head. Ana loved her God, loved to read the Bible and loved to sing and dance as acts of worship.
We ask that you pray for the legions of people who are left behind to cherish memories of her. We also ask that you, like Ana, commit selfless acts of kindness to all those around you. Maybe, in some way, through love, similar senseless acts of violence could be prevented. Funeral arrangements will be announced soon. In lieu of gifts and flowers, the family is working to establish scholarships in Ana's name at Western Connecticut State University's Department of Music in Danbury, Conn. and the Artist's Collective in Hartford, Conn.
James Mattioli, Age 6
James Mattioli, known to many simply as "J," loved life until it was tragically ended on Friday, was a smart, active boy who looked up to – and like – his father, played sports and loved food, an obituary posted online through a Monroe funeral home said.
"I need to go outside, Mom. I need fresh air," the family recalled James saying often. He loved baseball, basketball swimming and arm wrestling. He and his cousin George played hockey together.
The 6-year-old "proudly" rode his bike without training wheels, his family said.
His family, through the obituary, said that James was born four weeks early at Bridgeport Hospital. It became a joke that his early birth was caused by the fact that he was hungry. James loved hamburgers, omelets with bacon and French toast. When visiting Subway with his parents, he's once asked how old he would have to be to order a foot-long sub.
He was the first one up in the morning, and would draw and do crafts with his older sister, Anna.
Math and numbers came quickly to James. A friend, Christopher, introduced him to the concept of a googolplex, a number so large it's physically impossible to write.
-- Brian Dowling
Grace McDonnell, Age 7
Chris, Lynn and Jack McDonnell, the parents and older brother of Grace McDonnell, sent in a short statement to The Washington Post: "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from so many people. Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family. Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss."
The Werdens, who live across the street from the McDonnell's, shared a school bus stop. And so, on many mornings, the Werdens saw Grace's father, Christopher McDonnell, a competitive runner, out for jog.
"It's heartbreaking, just heartbreaking," Todd Werden said. "It's just unfathomable."
Werden described Grace as "a real cute little blonde girl with blue eyes — a real little doll."
The McDonnell family residence was still brightly decorated for the holidays.
"Last night it was all ablaze with Christmas lights," Werden said.
The Werdens also live close to the home of the shooter, also believed to have shot his mother several times in the head before he went to the Sandy Hook school Friday morning.
"If he was pissed at his family, why did he feel like he needed to go to the school and kill all those kids?" Werden said. "I can't understand it. Nobody will be able to understand it."
-- Washington Post
Anne Marie Murphy, Age 52
Special-education assistant Anne Marie Murphy — mother of four, protector of so many more — died trying to save her students, according to her father. Hugh McGowan said Murphy was found in a classroom, shielding a group of her beloved children.
"A first responder said she was a hero," McGowan told Newsday.
Of course she was, said her friend Amy Potucek. "She was so selfless," said Potucek, who worked at Sandy Hook until moving recently to another school. "I know that Anne Marie was doing everything she could to keep those kids safe, to protect them, because she loved them."
"We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy," a statement from the family of shooting victim Dylan Hockley said. "Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day."
At her funeral Thursday, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan compared Murphy to Jesus for giving up her life to protect others.
"Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends," Dolan said. "Like Jesus, Annie's life and death brings light, truth, goodness and love to a world often shrouded in darkness, evil, selfishness and death."
About 15 people arrived at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Katonah, N.Y., in a yellow school bus with "Newtown" written on its side. The church quickly filled and about 100 mourners waited outside.
Murphy, 52, was raised in Katonah, about half an hour away from Newtown, where her parents still live. She had six siblings and a serious joie de vivre. Her mother, Alice McGowan, told Newsday that her daughter was "a happy soul" who was devoted to her work and family.
The youngest of Murphy's four children is a senior in high school; the others have gone on to college and into adulthood. But always, they reconvened at the family home on Great Ring Road. Reached there Sunday, her husband, Mike Murphy, an engineer, said his emotions were too raw for him to talk. "It's too early, too soon," he said.
The Murphys' home is about five miles from the school, near the end of a rural road, by a pond where the kids ice-skate every winter. Anne Marie Murphy tended to brighten the bucolic place, a neighbor said. "She's a lovely lady, always very pleasant and very upbeat," said Gerald George, who has lived next door for about 15 years. They would always exchange pleasantries and chat about town news.
"It's just horrific, what's happened," George said. "I can't fathom the idea that she's gone and won't be pulling into the driveway next door, waving and smiling."
Murphy was a certified teacher who began volunteering at Sandy Hook when her children attended the school, friends said. She settled on working as an educational assistant at Sandy Hook "to be close to and available to her husband and to her children," Potucek said. "She was the absolute rock in that family."
She loved walking outdoors, and she loved going to the movies — though she usually avoided the violent ones. And she never saw anything when it was new, always waiting until it landed at the Edmond Town Hall theater, a second-run cinema on Main Street. "It's only $2 to get in," Potucek said. "And she had four kids."
She laughed. It felt right.
"Anne Marie was always so positive," Potucek said. "She would take any situation and make it happy. She would turn it around and look for the good."
On Saturday, Murphy had planned to get together with some of her friends for a holiday cookie exchange. They would have eaten too much and laughed even more, and they would have had a great time, friends said. They always did.
-- Washington Post; Courant Staff Report; Associated Press
Emilie Parker, Age 6
Emilie Parker was a "bright," avid artist who acted as a mentor to her 3- and 4-year-old sisters, her father, Robbie Parker, recalled Saturday.
"Emily's laughter was infectious and all those who met her would agree this world is a better place because she has been in it," Parker, 30, told reporters in Newtown. "She was beautiful; she was blond, always smiling. She was the type of person that could just light up a room."
Emilie taught her younger sisters to read, dance and "find the simple joys of life," Parker said. Her siblings looked up to her and leaned on her for comfort.
Emilie was compassionate, Parker said, and loved to create cards for others. One "special card" she made was even placed in her grandfather's casket.
"She always had something kind to say about anybody, and her love and the strength she gave us and the example she showed us is remarkable," he said.
The last conversation Parker said he had with Emilie was Friday morning, in Portuguese. He had been teaching her the language.
"I was leaving for work," he said. "She told me good morning. She asked how I was doing. … She told me she loved me. I gave her a kiss and I was out the door."
Parker expressed sympathy for the other families and said he's sought strength through his family and his faith.
"She is an incredible person," he said of Emilie, "and I'm so blessed to be her dad."
Jack Pinto, Age 6
He was a Giants fan and a wrestler. Jack Pinto, who was killed Friday at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, became the hero of his sports idol, Giant's receiver Victor Cruz.
"Jack Pinto 'My Hero'," Cruz wrote in Sharpie across his cleats Sunday. "This one is 4 U!"
Cruz, who heard that Jack was a big fan of his, tweeted on Sunday that that his condolences and prayers are with the Pinto family.
A family friend of the Pinto's contacted FOX-CT's Rich Coppola to see if he could get a photograph of Jack displayed during Sunday's Giants game. The friend told Coppola that she heard that Cruz was hoping to attend Jack's funeral.
"Jack was an incredibly loving and vivacious young boy, appreciated by all who knew him for his lively and giving spirit and steely determination," read an obituary for Jack on The Newtown Bee's website. "In life and in death, Jack will forever be remembered for the immeasurable joy he brought to all who had the pleasure of knowing him, a joy whose wide reach belied his six short years"
Also Sunday morning, Jack's wrestling team paused for a moment of silence before their meet.
-- Brian Dowling
Noah Pozner, Age 6
First-grader Noah Samuel Pozner, born in Danbury, was a kind, caring and smart boy, with an occasional "mischievous" streak, his uncle, Alexis Haller, said during a funeral for Noah Monday.
"He liked to tell his sisters that he worked in a taco factory; when they asked him how he got to work, he would give them a funny look as if to say he knew something that they didn't," Haller, of Woodinville, Wash., recalled. "He loved animals, video games and Mario Brothers. He was already a very good reader, and had just bought a Ninjago book at a book fair that he was really excited about reading."
If Noah had had the chance to grow up, Haller said: "He would have become a great man. He would [have] been a wonderful husband and a loving father. He would have been a backbone of our family for years to come."
Noah attended Sandy Hook Elementary with his twin sister, Arielle, and an older sister, Sophia, 8. Like many twins, the Pozners had been assigned to different classes.
Arielle survived Friday's rampage. Noah did not.
Noah was a "rambunctious little maverick" who was "smart as a whip," said his mother, Veronique, speaking through a relative. He loved his family, his parents, his siblings and especially his twin, she said.
"He called her his best friend," she said.
Noah was an "impish, larger than life little boy," according to his obituary.
"How do you capture the essence of a six year old in just a few words?," his obituary said. "Everything he did conveyed action and energy through love. He was the light of our family, a little soul devoid of spite and meanness."
Rabbi Shaul Praver of Adath Israel in Newtown said that Noah and his family belonged to his congregation and that he had spent much of Friday with the boy's mother. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Praver said.
An inquisitive and "very warm" child, Noah liked to ask about how the world worked, recalled his uncle, Arthur Pozner, who saw Noah for Hanukkah in Brooklyn the Saturday before the shooting.
Noah asked him question after question, he recalled, at one point wondering about the digital display on the toaster oven.
"Is the toaster going to reach 10,000 degrees?" Noah asked his uncle.
"Ten thousand degrees would melt diamonds," his uncle recalls telling him.
Arthur Pozner said Noah often seemed beyond his years. "For a 6-year-old, he was a very smart kid," he said.
Noah's mother is a nurse, and his father, Leonard, works with computers. The family appreciated their charming old New England town and its strong schools, Arthur Pozner said.
"One of the reasons they moved there was the schools," he said. "They were very good. And it was very safe."
At the funeral Monday, Haller said people could honor Noah "by loving each other and taking care of each other."
"That's what Noah would have wanted," he said.
Noah is survived by his mother, father, sister and twin, as well as his siblings Danielle and Michael, his grandparents Marie, Dirk, Ivan, Deanna and Lena, uncles and aunts, Arthur, Stephan, Alexi, Patricia and Victoria.
-- Washington Post
At Noah's funeral Monday, his mother, Veroniquie Pozner, and his uncle, Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Wash., gave the following eulogies.
From mother, Veronique Pozner:
The sky is crying, and the flags are at half-mast. It is a sad, sad day. But it is also your day, Noah, my little man. I will miss your forceful and purposeful little steps stomping through our house. I will miss your perpetual smile, the twinkle in your dark blue eyes, framed by eyelashes that would be the envy of any lady in this room.
Most of all, I will miss your visions of your future. You wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. It was your favorite food, and no doubt you wanted to ensure that the world kept producing tacos.
You were a little boy whose life force had all the gravitational pull of a celestial body. You were light and love, mischief and pranks. You adored your family with every fiber of your 6-year-old being. We are all of us elevated in our humanity by having known you. A little maverick, who didn't always want to do his schoolwork or clean up his toys, when practicing his ninja moves or Super Mario on the Wii seemed far more important.
Noah, you will not pass through this way again. I can only believe that you were planted on Earth to bloom in heaven. Take flight, my boy. Soar. You now have the wings you always wanted. Go to that peaceful valley that we will all one day come to know. I will join you someday. Not today. I still have lots of mommy love to give to Danielle, Michael, Sophia and Arielle.
Until then, your melody will linger in our hearts forever. Momma loves you, little man.
From uncle, Alexis Haller:
On Friday, Dec. 14, we tragically lost a most beloved member of our family. Noah was a 6-year-old little boy, and he was so dear to all of our hearts.
Words cannot express the unfathomable loss we feel.
Noah was a wonderful son and a loving brother. He was kind, caring, smart, funny, and sometimes even a little mischievous. He liked to tell his sisters that he worked in a taco factory; when they asked him how he got to work, he would give them a funny look as if to say he knew something that they didn't.
Noah was a little kid. He loved animals, video games and Mario Brothers. He was already a very good reader, and had just bought a Ninjago book at a book fair that he was really excited about reading. He was also very excited about going to a birthday party he had been invited to. It was to take place on Saturday, Dec. 15.
Noah loved his family dearly, especially his mom, his dad, his big sisters Danielle and Sophia, his big brother Michael, and his dear twin Arielle. He called Arielle his best friend, and she was — and always had been.
If Noah had not been taken from us, he would have become a great man. He would been a wonderful husband and a loving father. He would have been a backbone of our family for years to come. His loss, and our loss, are deep indeed.
It is unspeakably tragic that none of us can bring Noah back. We would go to the ends of the Earth to do so, but none of us can.
What we can do is carry Noah within us, always. We can remember the joy he brought to us. We can hold his memory close to our hearts. We can treasure him forever. And all of us, including the family, the community, the country and the world, can honor Noah by loving each other and taking care of each other. That's what Noah would have wanted.
Noah, we love you so much, we miss you dearly, and we will never, ever forget you.
Caroline Previdi, Age 6
"Silly Caroline" Previdi had an infectious grin and a giving heart.
Karen Dryer, a neighbor, remembered how six-year-old Caroline would ride the bus with her son, Logan, when he got scared. She'd sit with him, make sure he felt safe, and play peek-a-boo over the seat to distract him.
"My son refers to her as 'Silly Caroline,'" said Dryer, who is still wrestling with how to talk to her son about the shootings. "She's just a girl that was always smiling, always wanting others to smile."
"Caroline Phoebe Previdi was a blessing from God and brought joy to everyone she touched," her parents, Jeff and Sandy Previdi, said in a statement. "We know that she is looking down on us from Heaven."
Previdi once went by the nickname "Boo" because she looked so much like the little girl from the movie "Monsters, Inc.," said one family friend, who declined to be named.
"She was a total sweetheart. She was adorable," the family friend said.
Another friend who lives in the Newtown area said Caroline loved gymnastics. "She was a spunky little girl. She had fire to her," the woman said.
"It's a warm, loving family," said Catherina Mola, who lives across the street from the Previdis. "It's senseless."
"We're a pretty close neighborhood," Mola added.
On Saturday morning, before all the victims' names became public, some who knew Caroline remembered her on Twitter. "R.I.P Caroline Previdi. You were a very sweet little girl and we will all miss you dearly. #PrayersForNewtown," tweeted Paige Tremblay.
-- Brian Dowling; Washington Post; Associated Press
Jessica Rekos, Age 6
In a pale pink polo dress, 6-year-old Jessica Rekos's grayish-blue eyes beam into the camera lens. Her arm is wrapped around her younger brother, who has the same eyes.
"They are absolute clones of you guys" says a Facebook friend, commenting on the photo Jessica's mother, Krista Lehman Rekos, posted Nov. 9.
In another family photo taken from Cape Cod, she stands in the back with her hand on her mother's shoulder as her family sits in the sand.
Condolences poured in for the Rekos family, who posted photos of Jessica in her honor, including one where she is in the arms of a relative, wearing a princess's tiara.
In a statement to the Washington Post on Sunday, Jessica's parents Krista and Rich said their daughter "loved everything about horses."
"She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses and writing stories about horses. We had promised her she could have her very own horse when she turned 10. She asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat," her parents said in the statement.
Jessica was the Rekos's first born and they said she enjoyed being the big sister to her two little brothers, Travis and Shane. Jessica loved doing research on Orca whales, one of her passions after seeing the movie "Free Willy" last year. In October, she got a chance to visit Sea World and see a live Orca. She spent time, her family said, writing in her journals and making up stories.
Jessica, her family said, "started our family, and she was our rock."
"She had an answer for everything, she didn't miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time," the statement said. "We called her our little CEO for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything. We cannot imagine our life without her. We are mourning her loss, sharing our beautiful memories we have of her, and trying to help her brother Travis understand why he can't play with his best friend. We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are."
-- Washington Post
Avielle Richman, Age 6
They called her "Avie."
She was a curly-haired kid who shared the passion of her parents, Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman, for keeping active outdoors, according to her father's online postings and family acquaintances.
Avielle Richman took riding lessons on a pony named Betty at Zoar Ridge Stables and had none of the timidity around the big animals one might expect of a 6-year-old. Inspired by Merida, a character in the animated movie "Brave," she took up archery last summer, firing arrows at a backyard target during breaks from watching the Olympics on television inside.
She did a lot of summer reading that required trips to the library, and her parents rewarded her with an outing for lunch at a restaurant called My Place. She liked too many books to have just one favorite, and got out her crayons for Harry Potter coloring books.
She had a black cat named Molokai who somehow defied gravity to reach the fireplace mantel; Molokai was caught just as a paw dipped into the fish bowl.
Avielle's family roots were in Connecticut, and they moved back there in 2011 after living in San Diego. She received a kindergarten diploma from Sandy Hook Elementary School in June, and the family took a road trip across eight states to visit Iowa.
She turned 6 nine days before Halloween and blew out the candles on a cake with white frosting and pink trim. The family went to the Castle Hill Farms fall festival and roamed through the pumpkin patch to find the perfect Halloween jack-o'-lantern.
By then, first grade was well underway.
Just before school started, her father, Jeremy, marveled online: "Our little hummingbird is starting first grade tomorrow."
-- Washington Post
Lauren Rousseau, Age 30
When Lauren Rousseau was in fifth grade, she had a teacher she loved. Always bubbly and outgoing, the young Lauren would come home and tell her parents or her two younger brothers about Mr. Hochsprung and what they did in class that day: tap a maple tree to learn about botany and how syrup was made, or learn how to make apple cider with a press.
She had talked about becoming a teacher since she was a small child, her mother, Teresa Rousseau, said in a statement. Her father, Gilles Rousseau, said it was in fifth grade that she knew for sure: She wanted to be a teacher like "Mr. H."
In November, after several years of substitute teaching, catering and working at Starbucks, she was hired to be a full-time substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In one of the inevitable links of small-town life, her principal, Dawn Hochsprung, was the wife of George Hochsprung — Mr. H.
On Friday, Rousseau and Dawn Hoschsprung were both killed at Sandy Hook.
"We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream," Teresa Rousseau, her mother, said.
"She was always on social media talking," said Bill Leukhardt, Teresa Rousseau's longtime. "She really liked going to Broadway shows."
A graduate of the University of Connecticut, Rousseau was also an avid fan of the women's basketball team, sometimes going to games. She received her master's in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport.
But it was school that Rousseau most loved to talk about. She would tell her dad about the things the children did that day, how one of them had learned something in a new way, and about Sandy Hook's principal. He wasn't surprised that she loved Dawn Hochsprung.
"She's the kind of person you meet and five minutes after being around her, you want to hug her and give her a kiss — a very likable, warm person, a wonderful person."
As Rousseau's father tried to understand how something so cruel could happen at a place his daughter loved so well, he also mourned for the loss suffered by someone else: George Hochsprung.
— Kenneth R. Gosselin; Washington Post
Statement from Terri Rousseau, mother of Lauren:
The Connecticut State Police confirmed at 1 a.m. today that our beloved Lauren was among the victims of the Newtown shooting. Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten. We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream.
Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau was born June 8, 1982 in Danbury, where she lived for most of her life. She was a graduate of Danbury High Schood. She had a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport. She had worked as a substitute teacher in Danbury, New Milford and Newtown before she was hired in November as a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Mary Sherlach, Age 56
For 18 years, Mary Sherlach went to work as the school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was the person children could see if they had difficulty keeping up in class, if they had emotional problems, or if they simply wanted to talk.
"She considered what she was doing as God's work — that's all you need to know about her," her husband, William Sherlach, a Morgan Stanley financial consultant, told the Washington Post by telephone from the family's home.
Sherlach, 56, was in a meeting at Sandy Hook with Principal Dawn Hochsprung when they heard gunfire Friday morning, according to news accounts. Sherlach and the principal bolted from the meeting to run toward the sound of the gunfire.
To her colleagues, Sherlach was known for her steady commitment to her work, which required that she navigate complex issues such as dyslexia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic misbehavior and whatever emotional issues children might bring to school from home. She served on numerous districtwide committees, including the conflict resolution committee, according to a biography on the Newtown Public Schools website.
"She was an extremely dedicated professional," said Sandra Zuccarello, a Sandy Hook reading teacher who, overcome with emotion, abruptly ended a phone call with the Washington Post.
Sherlach lived in Trumbull and was married with two adult daughters — one a high school chorus teacher in New Jersey and the other a graduate student at Georgetown University. Sherlach wrote in the biography that she and her husband, Bill, enjoyed traveling and spending time at their lake house in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Her hobbies were gardening, reading and the theater.
Sherlach is survived by two sisters and two brothers, one of whom is her twin, according to Jeanne Stocker, a childhood friend.
"I truly enjoy working with the SHS staff, parents and children and am always ready to assist in problem solving, intervention and prevention," she wrote.
— Kenneth R. Gosselin; Washington Post
Victoria Soto, Age 27
Vicki Soto greeted the new school year as she always had: with unbridled enthusiasm.
"I absolutely love teaching first grade," she wrote in her biography on the school's Web site. "I look forward to an amazing year . . . with my amazing students!"
Soto was the fun one, the kind of teacher who sent a September newsletter to parents with funny self-portraits of all her students in the margins. When she started out as a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, she was an instant hit with students, who loved hearing her stories about growing up in Stratford.
"The kids would say, 'Oh, Ms. Soto is subbing in your class today? You're so lucky,' " said Tess Mubarak, a former student.
Soto, 27, later became a first-grade teacher, a job she had coveted since she was a first-grader herself. She had earned all the necessary credentials. But it was a certain girlishness — ("I also love flamingos and the New York Yankees," she enthused in her bio) — that children responded to.
She, in turn, was devoted to them.
Soto was a first-grade teacher in Room 10 next to where the shooting began. She hid her students and by thinking quickly, she is credited with saving many of the children in her class.
Adam Lanza, according to sources familiar with the investigation, walked in, shot her and went back into the hallway looking for another class. The source said there's no doubt the suspect would have fired at more students if he had seen them.
She died, authorities told the family, trying to protect her students.
The last time her cousin Jim Wiltsie saw her was Thursday night, at the wake of a child who had died suddenly of spinal meningitis. One of Soto's younger sisters used to babysit the child. The cousins chatted briefly. With the holidays approaching, they expected to see each other soon.
"She put herself between the gunman and the children," said Wiltsie, a police officer. "Her instincts as a teacher kicked in."
Victoria Soto grew up in Stratford, the oldest of four children in a public-service-oriented family. Her father works for the state transportation department. Her mother is a nurse. Her aunt is a teacher.
Bright and studious, Soto graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University, where she double-majored in education and history. But there was never any doubt about her priority.
Soto's lifelong ambition was to be a teacher -- a goal she pursued with single-minded purpose. "She focused her mind on that from a very early age," Wiltsie recalled.
Once Soto started working at Sandy Hook five years ago, the school quickly became "the center of her universe," her cousin said. She started out as an intern and a long-term substitute teacher for second- and third-grade classes. Three years ago, she became a first-grade teacher.
She juggled teaching and attending graduate school. She was working toward a master's degree in special education at Southern Connecticut State University.
"Her students weren't her students. They were her kids," Wiltsie said. "That's what she called them."
Tim Snellman, father of a 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter who attended Sandy Hook, expected he'd know some of the teachers, but he didn't realize how close the tragedy would come to his family.
"Victoria Soto was a tutor for my son for a couple of years. She was really good," Snellman said. "Really pleasant girl, really smart, Matthew liked going to her. she knew how to connect with my son. She absolutely did a great a job with him. His grades improved immediately after working with her."
"We just live right down the street, and I spoke to her after every session," two days a week for two years, he said.
"I'm so proud of her. Because of what she did, there are parents who can have Christmas with their children," childhood friend Jessica Zrallack said at a vigil outside Stratford town hall on Saturday, shivering in the middle of the somber crowd. "She's a real hero. I wouldn't have expected anything less of her. I don't think there's one person who could say anything bad about her."
"We lost a very special person. She was living her dream – she wanted to be a teacher, but look at the price she paid for it," Zrallack said.
"She was always a good person. I remember her back to first grade. We were in the same class in fourth grade — the Soto family was like a second family to me, and she was very family involved," said Aquiles Rodriguez of New York City.
"When I heard about the shooting, I thought that was really bad. But when I heard the story that it was her," Rodriguez said, pausing and looking to the ground. "When I heard it was her, I just got on the train to come up and be with the fam."
"Hug your loved ones," Carlee Soto, one of her sisters, wrote on Twitter the morning after the shooting. "Tell them how much you love them because you never know when you'll see them again. Do this in honor of Vicki."
Benjamin Wheeler, Age 6
Even as a toddler, Benjamin Andrew Wheeler had the bright eyes and comedic timing of a performer. His father, David, was a longtime actor. His mother, Francine, recorded bouncy children's music. And Ben loved cracking them both up.
In a "happy birthday" video for Ben's grandfather — which was posted online in 2008 and featured big brother Nate drawing a green, yellow and purple birthday robot — Ben went off-script with his own improvisations. Instead of birthday wishes, he kept giving hearty shout-outs to Grandpa's wife, Kay-Kay, to his parents' clear delight.
"He was a feisty little 6-year-old," said family friend Sophfronia Scott. "He and my son loved to run and jump and throw leaves and everything you thought a young boy would love to do."
Ben was creative like his parents. He painted kid pictures and studied piano with his mother, who gives lessons. The Sunday before he died, he had a recital with fellow students.
"Spirited" is how Rabbi Shaul Praver of the Adath Israel congregation in Newtown put it. Though Ben and his family were members of Trinity Episcopal Church, they once attended a Hanukkah celebration at the synagogue.
"There's always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved," Praver said. "That was Ben Wheeler."
Ben's comedy was a hit among the under-10 set. Scott's son, Tain, 8, recalled that when they would watch TV together, Ben would offer his own voice-overs for TV characters. Ben would replace a bit of dialogue, such as "follow the flashing light," with the much more popular "follow the flashing butt."
"That's what kids do," Scott said.
The adults were some of his biggest fans.
When the grown-ups and kids gathered at David Wheeler's birthday party last year, Darryl Gregory, Scott's husband, performed a playful song titled "Too Many Kids in This House."
As Ben and the children were laughing, getting swept up in the rollicking tune, Ben cut in with a pretty important question: What does he mean there are too many kids in this house?
The house went wild.
"There were times we would say, 'Ben is smarter than all of us,' " Scott said.
On Monday, the Wheeler family released the following statement:
Ben Wheeler was an irrepressibly bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained. His rush to experience life was headlong, creative and immediate.
He was a devoted fan of his older brother, Nate, and the two of them together filled the house with the noise of four children. He loved the local soccer program, often running across the field long after it was actually necessary, but always smiling and laughing as he moved the ball nearly always at full tilt.
He was becoming a strong swimmer and loved his lessons. Eager to learn, he couldn't wait to get to school to see his teacher and his growing group of new first grade friends. Ben was also a member of Tiger Scout Den 6 which met at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse. Earlier in December, Ben performed at his piano recital and sitting still long enough to play one piece was an accomplishment he reveled in.
He loved The Beatles, lighthouses, and the number 7 train to Sunnyside, Queens. In a conversation with Francine before school on Friday, he said, "I still want to be an architect, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that's what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does."
The family's statement said Ben was born in Manhattan and moved to Newtown in 2007 with his parents, Francine and David Wheeler, and Nate, who is now 9.
-- Washington Post
A statement from the family of Benjamin Wheeler:
Ben Wheeler was an irrepressibly bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained. His rush to experience life was headlong, creative and immediate. He was a devoted fan of his older brother, Nate, and the two of them together filled the house with the noise of four children. He loved the local soccer program, often running across the field long after it was actually necessary, but always smiling and laughing as he moved the ball nearly always at full tilt. He was becoming a strong swimmer and loved his lessons. Eager to learn, he couldn't wait to get to school to see his teacher and his growing group of new first grade friends. Ben was also a member of Tiger Scout Den 6 which met at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse. Earlier in December, Ben performed at his piano recital and sitting still long enough to play one piece was an accomplishment he reveled in. He loved The Beatles, lighthouses, and the number 7 train to Sunnyside, Queens. In a conversation with Francine [his mother] before school on Friday, he said, "I still want to be an architect, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that's what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does."
Allison N. Wyatt, Age 6
Allison Wyatt was a six-year-old student of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Kate Capellaro of All for Kids in Ridgefield last say Allison over the summer and described her to the New Haven Register: "She was a very shy girl, she was quiet and kept to herself, but she would smile at things. If a kid did something funny, she'd be laughing."
Messages on a Facebook tribute for Allison read "Our prayers go out to you and your family," and "Rest in Peace and look over those who love you."
-- Courant Staff Report
A statement released by Cheyanne and Ben Wyatt, Allison's parents:
Allison was a kind-hearted little girl who had a lot of love to give, and she formed special bonds with most people who spent any amount of time with her. She loved her family and teachers especially, but would often surprise us with random acts of kindness - once even offering her snacks to a complete stranger on a plane. Allison loved drawing and wanted to be an artist, often turning parts of the house into an "art studio" with rows of pictures taped to the walls. She loved to laugh and was developing her own wonderful sense of humor that ranged from just being a silly six-year old to coming up with observations that more than once had us crying with laughter.
Allison made the world a better place for six, far too short years and we now have to figure out how to move on without her. She was a sweet, creative, funny, intelligent little girl who had an amazing life ahead of her. Our world is a lot darker now that she's gone. We love and miss her so much.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun