Conn. victims: Lively youngsters, devoted adults

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NEWTOWN, Conn. – At the very start of their lives, the schoolchildren are remembered for their love of horses, or for the games they couldn't get enough of, or for always saying grace at dinner. The adult victims found their life's work in sheltering little ones, teaching them, caring for them, treating them as their own. The gunfire Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School left a toll both unbearable and incalculable: 20 students and six adults at the school, the gunman's mother at home, and the gunman himself.

A glimpse of some of those who died:

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CHARLOTTE BACON, 6

They were supposed to be for the holidays, but finally on Friday, after hearing much begging, Charlotte Bacon's mother relented and let her wear the new pink dress and boots to school.

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."

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DANIEL BARDEN, 7

Daniel'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.

On the biography on his professional website, Mark Barden lists spending time with his family as his favorite thing to do.

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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."

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OLIVIA ENGEL, 6

Images of Olivia Rose Engel show a happy child, one with a great sense of humor, as her family said in a statement. There she is, visiting with Santa Claus, or feasting on a slice of birthday cake. Or swinging a pink baseball bat, posing on a boat, or making a silly face.

Olivia loved school, did very well in math and reading, and was "insightful for her age," said the statement released by her uncle, John Engel.

She was a child who "lit up a room and the people around her." Creative with drawing and designing, she was also a tennis and soccer player and took art classes, swimming, and dance lessons in ballet and hip hop. A Daisy Girl Scout, she enjoyed musical theater.

"She was a great big sister and was always very patient with her 3 year old brother, Brayden," her family said, recalling that her favorite colors were purple and pink.

Olivia was learning the rosary and always led grace before the family dinner. "She was a grateful child who was always appreciative and never greedy," the family said.

Her father said she was a 6-year-old who had a lot to look forward to.

Dan Merton, a longtime friend of the girl's family, recalled that she loved attention, had perfect manners and was a teacher's pet.

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

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DAWN HOCHSPRUNG, 47, principal

Dawn Hochsprung's pride in Sandy Hook Elementary was clear. She regularly tweeted photos from her time as principal there, giving indelible glimpses of life at a place now known for tragedy. 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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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 gunned her down before killing 26 others at Sandy Hook. The two shared a home in a well-to-do Newtown neighborhood, but details were slow to emerge of who she was and what might have led her son to carry out such horror.

Kingston, N.H., Police Chief Donald Briggs Jr. said Nancy Lanza once lived in the community and was a kind, considerate and loving person. The former stockbroker at John Hancock in Boston was well-respected, Briggs said.

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."

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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.

"He was always friendly; he always liked to talk," Salazar said.

Jesse's family has a collection of animals he enjoyed playing with, and he was learning to ride horseback.

Family friend Barbara McSperrin told the Journal that Jesse was "a typical 6-year-old little boy, full of life."

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ANA MARQUEZ-GREENE, 6

A year ago, 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene was reveling in holiday celebrations with her extended family on her first trip to Puerto Rico. This year will be heartbreakingly different.

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.

Elba Marquez had just visited the new home over Thanksgiving and is perplexed by what happened. "What happened does not match up with the place where they live," she said.

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."

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JAMES MATTIOLI, 6

James Mattioli especially loved recess and math, and his family described him as a "numbers guy" who came up with insights beyond his years to explain the relationship between numbers. He particularly loved the concept of googolplex, which a friend taught him.

He was born four weeks before his due date, and his family often joked that he came into the world early because he was hungry.

They wrote in his obituary that 6-year-old James, fondly called 'J,' loved hamburgers with ketchup, his Dad's egg omelets with bacon, and his Mom's french toast. He often asked to stop at Subway and wanted to know how old he needed to be to order a footlong sandwich.

He loved sports and wore shorts and T-shirts no matter the weather. He was a loud and enthusiastic singer and once asked, "How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?"

His family recalled that he was an early-riser who was always ready to get up and go. He and his older sister were the best of friend. He was a thoughtful and considerate child, recently choosing to forgo a gift for himself and use the money to buy his grandfather a mug for Christmas.

A funeral for James will be Tuesday in Newtown.

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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.

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ANNE MARIE MURPHY, 52, teacher

A happy soul. A good mother, wife and daughter. Artistic, fun-loving, witty and hardworking.

Remembering their daughter, Anne Marie Murphy, her parents had no shortage of adjectives to offer Newsday. 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. As the grim news arrived, the victim's mother reached for her rosary.

"You don't expect your daughter to be murdered," her father told the newspaper. "It happens on TV. It happens elsewhere."

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EMILIE PARKER, 6

Quick to cheer up those in need of a smile, Emilie Parker never missed a chance to draw a picture or make a card.

Her father, Robbie Parker, fought back tears as he described the beautiful, blond, always-smiling girl who loved to try new things, except foods.

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.

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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.

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NOAH POZNER, 6

Noah was "smart as a whip," gentle but with a rambunctious streak, said his uncle, Alexis Haller of Woodinville, Wash. 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.

"They were always playing together, they loved to do things together," Haller said. When his mother, a nurse, would tell him she loved him, he would answer, "Not as much as I love you, Mom."

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."

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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."

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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.

She was a lover of music, dance and theater.

"I'm used to having people die who are older," her mother said, "not the person whose room is up over the kitchen."

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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.

Even as Sherlach neared retirement, her job at Sandy Hook was one she loved. 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."

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VICTORIA SOTO, 27, teacher

She beams in snapshots. Her enthusiasm and cheer was evident. She was doing, those who knew her say, what she loved.

And now, 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 among 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."

Photos of Soto show her always with a wide smile, in pictures of her at her college graduation and in mundane daily life. She looks so young, barely an adult herself. Her goal was simply to be a teacher.

"You have a teacher who cared more about her students than herself," said Mayor John Harkins of Stratford, the town Soto hailed from and where more than 300 people gathered for a memorial service Saturday night. "That speaks volumes to her character, and her commitment and dedication."

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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.

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Online:

http://noahsarkofhopefund.eventbrite.com/

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Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie, Mark Scolforo, Allen Breed, Pat Eaton-Robb, Bridget Murphy, Christopher Sullivan and Danica Coto contributed to this report.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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