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Newtown school shooting: Portraits of the victims

December 16, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Most of the victims died at the start of their young lives. Others died trying to protect the little ones. Here's a glimpse of those who lost their lives in the Newton, Conn., school shooting.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Charlotte Bacon wore her new pink dress and boots to school that day after begging her mom to wear the outfit, which was meant for the holidays.

It was the last outfit the outgoing redhead would ever pick out. Charlotte's older brother, Guy, was also in the school but was not shot.

Her parents, JoAnn and Joel, had lived in Newtown for four or five years, JoAnn's brother John Hagen, of Nisswa, Minn., told Newsday.

"She was going to go some places in this world," Hagen told the newspaper. "This little girl could light up the room for anyone."

Daniel Barden, 7

Daniel Barden's family says he was "fearless in the pursuit of happiness in life."

He was the youngest of three children and in a statement to the media, his family said Daniel earned his missing two front teeth and ripped jeans.

"Words really cannot express what a special boy Daniel was. Such a light. Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair and so thoughtful towards others, imaginative in play, both intelligent and articulate in conversation: in all, a constant source of laughter and joy," the family said.

His father, Mark is a local musician. The New Haven Register reported that Mark was scheduled to play a show at a restaurant in Danbury on Friday, a show that was later cancelled.

Rachel D'Avino, 29

Days before the Connecticut shooting rampage, the boyfriend of Rachel D'Avino had asked her parents for permission to marry her.

D'Avino was a behavioral therapist who had only recently started working at the school where she was killed, according to Lissa Lovetere Stone, a friend who is handling her funeral planned for Friday. D'Avino's boyfriend, Anthony Cerritelli, planned to ask her to marry him on Christmas Eve, Lovetere Stone said.

Lovetere Stone said she met D'Avino in 2005 when D'Avino was assigned to her son, who has autism, in their town of Bethlehem. D'Avino, 29, was so dedicated she'd make home visits and constantly offered guidance on handling situations such as helping her son deal with loud music at a wedding.

"Her job didn't end when the school bell rang at 3 o'clock," Lovetere Stone said.

Police told her family that she shielded one of the students during the rampage, Lovetere Stone said.

"I'm heartbroken. I'm numb," Lovetere Stone said. "I think she taught me more about how to be a good mother to a special needs child than anyone else ever had."

Olivia Engel, 6

A longtime friend of the Olivia Engel's family, says he could never forget the child, and he has much to say when he thinks of her.

"She loved attention," he said. "She had perfect manners, perfect table manners. She was the teacher's pet, the line leader."

On Friday, Merton said, she was simply excited to go to school and then return home and make a gingerbread house.

"Her only crime," he said, "is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old."

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal

Dawn Hochsprung clearly took pride in Sandy Hook Elementary. She regularly posted photos on her Twitter account from her time as principal there. Just this week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert; days before that, the tiny hands of kindergartners exchanging play money at their makeshift grocery store.

She viewed her school as a model, telling The Newtown Bee in 2010 that "I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day." She had worked to make Sandy Hook a place of safety, too, and in October, the 47-year-old Hochsprung shared a picture of the school's evacuation drill with the message "safety first." When the unthinkable came, she was ready to defend.

Officials said she died while lunging at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him.

"She had an extremely likable style about her," said Gerald Stomski, first selectman of Woodbury, where Hochsprung lived and had taught. "She was an extremely charismatic principal while she was here."

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Dr. Matthew Velsmid was at Madeleine's house on Saturday, tending to her stricken family. He said the family did not want to comment.

Velsmid said that after hearing of the shooting, he went to the triage area to provide medical assistance but there were no injuries to treat.

"We were waiting for casualties to come out, and there was nothing. There was no need, unfortunately," he said. "This is the darkest thing I've ever walked into, by far."

Velsmid's daughter, who attends another school, lost three of her friends.

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Catherine's parents released a statement expressing gratitude to emergency responders and for the support of the community.

"We are greatly saddened by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Catherine Violet and our thoughts and prayers are with the other families who have been affected by this tragedy," Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard said. "We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy."

Chase Kowalski, 7

Chase Kowalski was always outside, playing in the backyard, riding his bicycle. 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 Kowalskis' ranch home Saturday, and a state trooper's car idled in the driveway. Grimes spoke of the boy only in the present tense.

Nancy Lanza, 52, gunman's mother

She once was known simply for the game nights she hosted and the holiday decorations she put up at her house. Now Nancy Lanza is known as her son's first victim.

Authorities say her 20-year-old son Adam shot and killed her before killing 26 others at Sandy Hook. The two shared a home in Newtown, but details were slow to emerge of who she was and what might have led her son to carry out such horror.

Court records show Lanza and her ex-husband, Peter Lanza, filed for divorce in 2008. He lives in Stamford and is a tax director at General Electric. A neighbor, Rhonda Cullens, said she knew Nancy Lanza from get-togethers she had hosted to play Bunco, a dice game. She said her neighbor had enjoyed gardening.

"She was a very nice lady," Cullens said. "She was just like all the rest of us in the neighborhood, just a regular person."

Jesse Lewis, 6

Six-year-old Jesse Lewis had hot chocolate with his favorite breakfast sandwich - sausage, egg and cheese - at the neighborhood deli before going to school Friday morning.

Jesse and his parents were regulars at the Misty Vale Deli in Sandy Hook, Conn., owner Angel Salazar told The Wall Street Journal.

Jesse's family said he enjoyed playing with animals and was learning to ride horseback.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

The girl's grandmother, Elba Marquez, said the family moved to Connecticut just two months ago, drawn from Canada, in part, by Sandy Hook's sterling reputation. The grandmother's brother, Jorge Marquez, is mayor of a Puerto Rican town and said the child's 9-year-old brother also was at the school but escaped safely.

A video spreading across the Internet shows a confident Ana hitting every note as she sings "Come, Thou Almighty King." She flashes a big grin and waves to the camera when she's done.

Jorge Marquez confirmed the girl's father is saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who wrote on Facebook that he was trying to "work through this nightmare."

"As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise," he wrote. "I love you sweetie girl."

James Mattioli, 6

The upstate New York town of Sherrill is thinking of Cindy Mattioli, who grew up there and lost her son James in the school shooting in Connecticut.

"It's a terrible tragedy, and we're a tight community," Mayor William Vineall told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. "Everybody will be there for them, and our thoughts and prayers are there for them."

James' grandparents, Jack and Kathy Radley, still live in the city, the newspaper reported.

Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7

With broken hearts, the parents of Grace Audrey McDonnell said Sunday they couldn't believe the outpouring of support they've received since the little girl who was the center of their lives died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Lynn and Chris McDonnell called their 7-year-old daughter "the love and light" of their family in a statement released by the little girl's uncle.

The family also shared a photo featuring Grace smiling into the camera, her eyes shining and a pink bow adorning her long blonde hair.

"Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss," the McDonnells said.

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher

Anne Marie Murphy's parents had no shortage of adjectives to offer Newsday - a happy soul. A good mother, wife and daughter. Artistic, fun-loving, witty and hardworking.

When news of the shooting broke, Hugh and Alice McGowan waited for word of their daughter as hours ticked by. And then it came.

Authorities told the couple their daughter was a hero who helped shield some of her students from the rain of bullets.

Emilie Parker, 6

Emilie Parker's father Robbie Parker described the 6-year-old as quick to cheer up those in need of a smile. She never missed a chance to draw a picture or make a card.

Parker, one of the first parents to publicly talk about his loss, expressed no animosity for the gunman, even as he struggled to explain the death to his other two children, ages 3 and 4. He's sustained by the fact that the world is better for having had Emilie in it.

"I'm so blessed to be her dad," he said.

Jack Pinto, 6

Jack Pinto was a huge New York Giants fan.

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said he talked to Pinto's family, which is considering burying the 6-year-old boy in Cruz's No. 80 jersey.

Cruz honored Jack Sunday on his cleats, writing on them the words "Jack Pinto, My Hero" and "R.I.P. Jack Pinto."

"I also spoke to an older brother and he was distraught as well. I told him to stay strong and I was going to do whatever I can to honor him," Cruz said after the Giant's game with the Atlanta Falcons. "He was fighting tears and could barely speak to me."

Cruz said he plans to give the gloves he wore during the game to the boy's family, and spend some time with them.

"There's no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on," he said. "I can't even explain it."

Jack's funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday at the Honan Funeral Home in Newtown, followed by burial at the Newtown Village Cemetery.

Noah Pozner, 6

Noah Pozner's uncle Alexis Haller described him as "smart as a whip," gentle but with a rambunctious streak.

Noah's twin sister Arielle, assigned to a different classroom, survived the shooting. He called her his best friend, and with their 8-year-old sister, Sophia, they were inseparable.

Haller said Noah loved to read and liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. For his birthday two weeks ago, he got a new Wii.

"He was just a really lively, smart kid," Haller said. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."

Jessica Rekos, 6

"Jessica loved everything about horses," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos said in a statement. "She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses, and writing stories about horses."

When she turned 10, they promised, she could have a horse of her own. For Christmas, she asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

The Rekoses described their daughter as "a creative, beautiful little girl who loved playing with her little brothers, Travis and Shane.

"She spent time writing in her journals, making up stories, and doing 'research' on orca whales - one of her passions after seeing the movie 'Free Willy' last year." Her dream of seeing a real orca was realized in October when she went to SeaWorld.

Jessica, first born in the family, "was our rock," the parents said. "She had an answer for everything, she didn't miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time." A thoughtful planner, she was "our little CEO."

"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," they said.

"We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are."

Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, 30, teacher

Lauren Rousseau had spent years working as a substitute teacher and doing other jobs. So she was thrilled when she finally realized her goal this fall to become a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook.

Her mother, Teresa Rousseau, a copy editor at the Danbury News-Times, released a statement Saturday that said state police told them just after midnight that she was among the victims.

"Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten," she said. "We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream."

Her mother said she was thrilled to get the job.

"It was the best year of her life," she told the newspaper.

Rousseau has been called gentle, spirited and active. She had planned to see "The Hobbit" with her boyfriend Friday and had baked cupcakes for a party they were to attend afterward. She was born in Danbury, and attended Danbury High, college at the University of Connecticut and graduate school at the University of Bridgeport.

Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist

When the shots rang out, Mary Sherlach threw herself into the danger.

Janet Robinson, the superintendent of Newtown Public Schools, said Sherlach and the school's principal ran toward the shooter. They lost their own lives, rushing toward him.

Those who knew her called her a wonderful neighbor, a beautiful person, a dedicated educator.

Her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, told the South Jersey Times that Sherlach rooted on the Miami Dolphins, enjoyed visiting the Finger Lakes, relished helping children overcome their problems. She had planned to leave work early on Friday, he said, but never had the chance. In a news conference Saturday, he told reporters the loss was devastating, but that Sherlach was doing what she loved.

"Mary felt like she was doing God's work," he said, "working with the children."

Victoria Soto, 27, teacher

Victoria Soto is being called a hero. Though details of the 27-year-old teacher's death remained fuzzy, her name has been invoked again and again as a portrait of selflessness and humanity amid unfathomable evil. Those who knew her said they weren't surprised by reports she shielded her first-graders from danger.

"She put those children first. That's all she ever talked about," said a friend, Andrea Crowell. "She wanted to do her best for them, to teach them something new every day."

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Music surrounded Benjamin Wheeler as he grew up in a household where both his mother and father were performers.

They left behind stage careers in New York City when they moved to Newtown with Benjamin and his older brother Nate.

"We knew we wanted a piece of lawn, somewhere quiet, somewhere with good schools," Francine Wheeler told the Newtown Bee in a profile.

She is a music educator and singer-songwriter. Sometimes the musical mother would try out tunes on her own children, with some tunes that she made up for Ben as a baby eventually finding their way onto a CD, she told the newspaper.

In writing songs for children, melodies needn't be simplified, she said. "I try to make it my mission to always present good music to kids."

Benjamin's father, David, a former film and television actor, writes and performs still, according to a profile on the website of the Flagpole Radio Cafe theater, with which he's performed in Newtown.

The family are members of Trinity Episcopal Church, whose website noted that Nate, also a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was not harmed in Friday's shooting.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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