Remembering the victims of the Newtown shooting

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Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims

A year after the gunfire ended at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the trail of loss is still too hard to bear. The gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the school, plus his mother at home and, eventually, himself. Here are portraits of some of the victims. See gallery

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Rachel D'Avino, 29, therapist

Days before the Connecticut shooting rampage, Rachel D'Avino's boyfriend 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 handled her funeral. 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, student

The images of Olivia Engel will live far beyond her short lifetime. There she is, visiting with Santa Claus, or feasting on a slice of birthday cake. There's the one of her swinging a pink baseball bat, and another posing on a boat. In some, she models a pretty white dress, in others she makes a silly face.

Dan Merton, a longtime friend of the girl'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 Dec. 14, 2012, Merton said, she was simply excited to go to school and return home and make a gingerbread house.

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

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Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student

Two years ago, 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene was reveling in holiday celebrations with her extended family on her first trip to Puerto Rico.

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

Elba Marquez had just visited the new home over Thanksgiving and finds herself perplexed by what happened.

"It was a beautiful place, just beautiful," she said. "What happened does not match up with the place where they live."

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. I love you sweetie girl," he wrote.

AP Photo: Newtown Bee, Eliza Hallabeck
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Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal

A well-liked and experienced administrator, Dawn Hochsprung was among those gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where she had been principal since 2010. "She had an extremely likable style about her," Gerald Stomski, the first selectman of nearby Woodbury, said.

Hochsprung frequently tweeted photos from her job and wrote upbeat tweets about what was going on at the school. She posted photos of her students, calling the kindergarteners "kinders" and saw them as "74 new opportunities to inspire lifelong learning!"

"I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day," she told The Newtown Bee newspaper in 2010.

Video: Principal was ‘like a guardian angel’

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Dylan Hockley, 6, student

The Hockley family moved to Sandy Hook two years ago from England, in love with the sense of community and the elementary school that their boys, Dylan and Jake, would attend. Dylan's mother, Nicole, is American, and his father, Ian, is British.

They moved into a house on the same street as the mother of the shooter, Adam Lanza.

In a statement, the family said their youngest boy had thrived at Sandy Hook.

"We do not and shall never regret this choice," the Hockleys said. "Our boys have flourished here, and our family's happiness has been limitless."

Dylan had a beaming smile. He played tag every morning at the bus stop with neighbors, bounced on the trampoline and played computer games. He loved purple, chocolate and seeing the moon. He was learning to read and was proud to show off his new skills to his parents. Jake was his best friend and role model.

"We love you Mister D," the Hockleys wrote in their statement.

Dylan also adored his teacher's aide, Anne Marie Murphy, and would point to her picture on the family fridge every day. They took great comfort, they said, in knowing that when Dylan died, he was wrapped in Murphy's arms. She also died.

ABC News
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Catherine Hubbard, 6, student

A family friend turned reporters away from the house a year ago but 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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Jesse Lewis, 6, student

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 on Dec. 14, 2012.

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 that he enjoyed playing with. 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."

McDonnell family photo
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Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7, student

With broken hearts, the parents of Grace Audrey McDonnell said days after the shooting that they couldn't believe the outpouring of support they had 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.

newsday.com
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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 a year ago. When news of the shooting broke, Hugh and Alice McGowan waited for word of their daughter as hour by hour 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."

newsday.com
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Emilie Parker, 6, student

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 shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting as he described the beautiful, blonde, always-smiling girl who loved to try new things, except food.

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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Noah Pozner, 6, student

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 before the shooting, 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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Jack Pinto, 6, student

Jack Pinto was a huge New York Giants fan. Wide receiver Victor Cruz honored Jack on his cleats two days after the Sandy Hook shootings, 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 planned to give the gloves he wore during the game to the boy's family, and spend some time with them. On the Tuesday after the game, he visited the Pinto's home, as elementary school-aged children played touch football in the front yard of the family's home.

"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."

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Jessica Rekos, 6, student

"Jessica loved everything about horses," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos said in a statement after the shooting. "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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Avielle Richman, 6, student

The curly-headed little girl known as Avie Richman loved a lot of things. Horses. Harry Potter. The color red. She tried archery after watching the Disney movie "Brave." She told her parents that her dream car was a minivan. To reward her for reading over the summer, they took her to lunch.

Avie had moved to Sandy Hook from San Diego about two years ago with her parents, Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel.

"They still call Avielle their California girl," Melissa C. Stewart, a family friend, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "When they first moved here, it was hard to keep shoes on Avielle because she was so used to running barefoot on the beach in San Diego."

In a blog called "Avielle's Adventures," Jeremy Richman would tell friends about their family life: trips to the Thanksgiving Day parade in Stamford, Avielle's 6th birthday at the horse stable, a road trip to Iowa.

In August, he wrote about the newest milestone for his "little hummingbird," who was about to start first grade.

"We can't believe it," he wrote. "Jenn and I are both very nervous and excited."

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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 in the fall of 2012 to become a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook.

Her mother, Teresa Rousseau, a copy editor at the Danbury News-Times, released a statement the day after the shooting 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 paper.

Rousseau has been called gentle, spirited and active. She had planned to see "The Hobbit" with her boyfriend on the day of the shooting and had baked cupcakes for a party they were to attend afterward. She was born in Danbury, 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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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.

Investigators informed relatives that she was killed while shielding her first-graders from danger. She reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet, ensuring they were safe, a cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News.

"She was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm," Wiltsie told ABC. "And by doing that, put herself between the gunman and the children."

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.

"She lost her life doing what she loved," Wiltsie said.

AP Photo: Courtesy of Mark Sherlach
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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 the day of the shooting, he said, but never had the chance. In a news conference the day after, 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."

AP Photo: The Wheeler Family
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Benjamin Wheeler, 6, student

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 the Sandy Hook shooting.

AP Photo: Family Photo via Benjamin Wyatt
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Allison Wyatt, 6, student

Allison Wyatt was a kind-hearted little girl who formed special bonds with almost everyone she met. She'd surprise her family with her random acts of kindness — once even offering her snacks to a stranger on a plane, her family recalled.

She loved her teachers and her family. Sometimes, she'd make her parents laugh so hard they cried. She wanted to be an artist, and her drawings would be taped to the walls as if the house were an art studio.

"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," her family said in a statement. "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."

On Dec. 14, 2012, after news of the shooting broke, one of Allison's aunts posted on Facebook that her nieces attended Sandy Hook school, and asked for prayer. "One is fine and the other is missing at this time," she wrote. "We are remaining positive at this time and counting on the power of prayer."

Later, after news of Allison's death, she asked for prayer again.

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