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Slain loved ones 'would just light up the room'

  • Lives of 20 children, 6 women tragically cut short
  • Educators were dedicated to kids at Sandy Hook Elementary
Slain loved ones 'would just light up the room'

“I think everybody should know about these beautiful children whose lives were cut short.” – Mary Ann McDonnell, grandmother to shooting victim 7-year-old Gracie McDonnell.

As investigators in Connecticut continue to pore over evidence in one of the deadliest mass killings in the nation’s history, the stories of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School -- 20 innocent children and six women -- are beginning to emerge. Here are accounts of the victims culled from around the Web:

Jessica Rekos, 6

Jessica was born on May 10, 2006. Her parents are Rich and Krista Rekos and her mother teaches sixth grade at the Bridgeport School District, according to the New Haven Register.

Brian Rekos, Jessica’s uncle, posted a photo of himself and his niece on his Facebook page.

“There's nothing more heartbreaking than the death of a child, but to have it happen in this way is just too much,” wrote Jeff Stewart on Facebook. “Every time I think I'm done crying I see or hear something that brings it back up. I'm so sorry for you, Rich and your family. No one will ever forget this.” Source: New Haven Register

Facebook page set up in Jessica’s honor says: “Spread those beautiful wings baby girl. May it be Christmas every day in heaven with all of your favorite things,” said Sarah P. on Facebook.

Jack Pinto, 6

As a first-grader, Jack may have been small in frame but he had big designs as a wrestler. The Newtown Youth Wrestling Association confirmed in an online message early Sunday that Jack loved the sport and was seen as one of their own.

Gracie McDonnell, 7

For Gracie’s grandmother, Friday’s craziness – the uncertainty even hours after the horrific shooting – was nearly too much.

“They kept saying, ‘They can’t find her. They can’t find her,’ ” McDonnell said. “All day long I was praying she would be OK,” Mary Ann McDonnell told the Boston Herald.

But Grace, or Gracie, as her grandmother called her – was a wonderful child. She was full of life and vibrant and a sweet, blond “girly girl” who enjoyed the color pink and putting on her grandmother’s jewelry.

“She was a wonderful little girl. She was always smiling,” McDonnell told the paper.  “A little baby like that — I just hope she didn’t suffer.”

Emilie Parker, 6

Robbie Parker's little girl Emilie was a Sandy Hook student who "would just light up the room,” he said. He fought back tears as he told reporters about the eldest of his three daughters.

On the last day of her life, Parker said that he had been teaching his daughter Portuguese. “Our last conversation was in Portuguese,” he said. “She said that she loved me and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door.”

Parker, a physician’s assistant, found out about the shooting when victims began to be brought to his hospital, according to HLN affiliate KUTV in Utah

Emilie was the kind of child that others doted on, he said. “I can’t count the number of times that Emilie saw someone feeling sad or frustrated … and she would write them a little note,” he said.

“All of those that had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world is a better place with her.”

He said Emilie was helping her youngest sister learn how to read. “It was really sweet to see how if one of them would fall, or get their feelings hurt, they would run to Emilie.”

She is an incredible person, and I’m just so blessed to be her dad,” he said.

The family is trying to raise funds to bury their daughter in Utah, where they are originally from. Friends have set up a Facebook page, the Emilie Parker Fund.

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47

The educator had been at Sandy Hook for just two years and oversaw the implementation of a new security system. In a Newton Bee profile, Hochsprung said she was excited about her work at the school.

"I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day," Hochsprung told the newspaper.

She had bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education and had started the Ph.D. program at Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges in New York.

Read more: Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung

She led the school district's strategic planning panel and was the recipient of a national school grant.

She was "really nice and very fun, but she was also very much a tough lady in the right sort of sense," friend Tom Prunty told CNN. "Even little kids know when someone cares about them, and that was her," Prunty said.

Mary Sherlach, 56

Sherlach earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at SUNY Cortland and a master's degree at Southern Connecticut State University.

Sandy Hook Elementary's school psychologist, Sherlach was shot to death after entering the hallway around 9:30 a.m. to see what the commotion was all about. She was with Principal Dawn Hochsprung when they heard a "pop, pop, pop" sound, a parent with both women at the time told CNN.

“She described it as a ‘Pop, pop, pop’ in the hall… she said three people went out into the hall [Hochsprung, the vice principal and Sherlach] and only one person came back, the vice principal, she said, who was shot in the leg or the foot, who came crawling back."

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau’s classroom was the second one the gunman approached, according to the Hartford Courant. There were 14 children inside, according to the Courant, citing investigators. "There were 14 coats hanging there and 14 bodies. He killed them all," said a law enforcement officer involved in the case.

It appears the 14 children were huddled up in fear with Rousseau and another adult – a special ed teacher, the paper reports.

In a written statement Saturday, Rousseau’s mother said, "We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream," Teresa Rousseau said.

Lauren grew up in nearby Danbury and "wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten," her mother said.

Lauren earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut and a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport.

Lauren was also apparently a part-time barista at the Mill Plains Road Starbucks in Danbury, Connecticut, according to a Starbucks fan site.

Victoria Soto, 27

Sandy Hook teacher Vicki Soto is being hailed as a hero for protecting her kids.

A composite of news accounts shows that Soto is believed to have concealed her students in a classroom closet as the gunman menaced mere feet away. When the gunman entered the classroom and demanded to know the whereabouts of her students, Soto tried to send him to the other end of the school, telling him that the students were in an auditorium, according to the Hartford Courant. When some of the kids tried to flee, they were gunned down – as was Soto and another teacher.

Her cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told CNN: "She instinctively went into action when a monster came into her classroom and tried to protect the kids that she loved so much," her cousin, James Wiltsie, said. "We just want the public to know that Vicki was a hero."

Soto leaves behind a dog, a black lab named Roxie whom she loved very much. The dog meandered around the apartment Saturday apparently looking for Soto, relatives told CNN.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Charlotte was born on February 22, 2006. She's described as an outgoing girl with long and curly red hair. She had begged her mother for a new pink dress and boots for the holidays, which she wasn’t supposed to wear until closer to Christmas, Charlotte’s uncle, John Hagen, told Newsday.

But Friday morning Charlotte’s mom gave in, and the little girl got to wear her brand new dress and boots to school. Charlotte even wore her hair a special way to celebrate the end of the school week, Hagen told the newspaper. Hagen also said Charlotte's parents were happy she got the chance to show off that special new outfit Friday morning, but they never could have imagined it'd be the only time she'd get to wear it.

Charlotte’s parents, JoAnn and Joel, have lived in Newtown for four or five years, said Hagen, who is JoAnn’s brother. Charlotte’s older brother, Guy, was also in the school Friday morning but fortunately was unharmed.

A Facebook page has been set up in honor of Charlotte’s memory. A picture of the six year old was posted with the note, “Gone, but never forgotten.” Friends and strangers from across the country continue to post messages of grief and sympathy for the young girl and her family.

Charlotte had a bright future ahead of her. "She was going to go some places in this world," Hagen said. "This little girl could light up the room for anyone."

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Young Catherine was only six years old, born on June 8, 2006. Her aunt and uncle, Daniel Sullivan and Kelly McCormick-Sullivan, released a statement from Catherine’s parents, Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard.

Catherine’s mom and dad express their gratitude to the emergency responders and for the support of the community. They ask that everyone continue to pray their family, and for all the families who have been affected by this tragedy.

“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. We appreciate the overwhelming support from our community that we have received over the past 24 hours. We also wish to express our gratitude for all of the emergency responders who responded to this tragic incident as well as the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School. Our local police and fire departments and the other agencies who are working on this continuing investigation have been incredible. We also want to recognize outstanding work of The Connecticut State Police who have been supporting us from the very beginning of this ordeal and continue to provide unwavering support to our family. We have no further statement to make at this time and ask that we be afforded the opportunity to grieve with our friends and family. We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy.”

Noah Pozner, 6

Little Noah was the youngest of the victims in the Newtown shooting. He had just turned six years old less than a month ago on Nov. 20. Part of the reason Noah’s family decided to move to Newtown was for the schools, and for the family-friendly atmosphere of a safe small town, Noah’s uncle, Arthur Pozner, told Newsday.

Noah’s twin sister and older 8-year-old sister were also at the school during the shooting. They both walked away unharmed.

Like so many parents in Newtown, Connecticut, Noah’s mother is unable to grasp the thought of life without her youngest son, said Rabbi Shaul Praver who has spent time with Veronika Pozner, Noah’s mother.

“She said that she didn’t know how she was going to go on, and we encouraged her to focus on her other four children that need her and not to try to plan out the rest of her life, just take a deep breath right now,” Praver told The Forward, an American Jewish newspaper.

Noah’s uncle said that the young boy was very mature for his age, a remarkable six year old.

"Extremely, extremely mature -- when I was his age, I was not like him,” Pozner told Newsday. “Very well brought up. Extremely bright. Extremely bright.”

A Facebook page has been set up in memory of Noah, and to raise money for flowers, meals for the family, and whatever else the family may need during this time.

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Benjamin was born on September 12, 2006. He was just six years old. His family moved to Newtown last April so the young boy could grow up in a safe and quiet community.

Benjamin’s father, David Wheeler, worked in the film and television industry in New York City as an actor for more than 20 years, before the family moved to Newtown, according to The Bee. Francine, Benjamin’s mother, is a music teacher and performer, and according to The Bee, she released a CD of children’s music back in 2004. But despite their own careers, Benjamin’s parents decided Newtown was the best place to give their son a good childhood and a bright future.

"We knew we wanted a piece of lawn, somewhere quiet, somewhere with good schools,” Francine Wheeler, Benjamin’s mother, had told the Newtown Bee in a profile published about her. "Music can happen anywhere.”

In addition to his parents, Benjamin leaves behind an older brother Nate, according to published reports.

Daniel Barden, 7

Little Daniel was a bright spot in this world – a kid who others say went through life “always smiling and so thoughtful toward others.” Daniel recently turned 7 on Sept. 27.

Following the shooting, Daniel’s family released a statement, which was published in a report by the New Haven Register. Daniel’s family members praise his endless pursuit of happiness as a carefree 7-year-old boy.

"Everyone who has ever met Daniel remembers and loves him. 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. Daniel was fearless in his pursuit of happiness and life. He earned his ripped jeans and missing two front teeth. Despite that, he was, as his mother said, ‘Just So Good.’ He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world. Our hearts break over losing him and for the many other families suffering loss."

Olivia Engel, 6

She was a little angel on Earth. And now Heaven has one more, said Reverend. Robert Weiss, who spent time with Olivia and her family.

Olivia was supposed to be an angel in the nativity play at Newtown’s St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, the day after the shooting.

Her favorite colors were pink and purple; her favorite stuffed animal -- a lamb. Her birthday was July 18.

Olivia did just about everything a little girl could. She took art and dance lessons, played tennis, soccer and swam. Olivia was a Girl Scout and involved in musical theater. Her family said she loved school and excelled in math and reading.

"She was insightful for her age and had a great sense of humor. She laughed a lot and always lit up a room including the people around her. She was very creative and was always drawing and designing things," her family said.

A Facebook page was set up in Olivia’s honor, where family and friends posted some of these details about the little girl they lost too soon. Also on the page are details of how to send donations to help support Olivia’s family.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

A year ago, Ana celebrated the holidays as an overjoyed little girl on her first trip to Puerto Rico with her family.

Ana’s grandmother, Elba Marquez, said the girl’s family moved to Newtown just a couple of months ago. The community’s reputation as family-friendly and safe is what attracted them to the small New England town.

A Facebook page was set up in memory of Ana, as a way for people to post messages and thoughts for her family. A video posted on the page shows a vibrant and bubbly six-year-old Ana singing “Come, Thou Almighty King.” After the song, she shares a huge smile and a wave with the camera, showing the world what a happy little girl she was.

Chase Kowalski, 7

Described by his family as having a heart “only filled with love for all the people he touched.”

Like other little boys, Chase was energetic and had a true love of life. But Chase wasn’t your typical seven year old; He was extraordinary. He completed a triathlon at age six and ran in all the community road races. Chase loved the game of baseball, and loved practicing with his dad and teammates. His family said Chase was proud to be a Cub Scout and he looked forward to the kids’ workshop at the local Home Depot.

“We are thankful to the Lord for giving us seven years with our beautiful loving son. It is with heavy hearts that we return him to our Lord…Chase was an amazing son, brother, and grandson who's heart was only filled with love for all the people he touched... He was greatly loved by his family,” Chase’s family said in an obituary.

Jesse Lewis, 6

Six-year-old Jesse started out the day the best way he knew how – with his favorite breakfast at the local deli where he and his parents were regulars.

He loved math, riding horses and playing at his mom’s farm, Jesse’s father told the New York Post.

"He was just a happy boy," said Neil Heslin. "Everybody knew Jesse. He was going to go places in life.”

Family friends said he was a typical little boy, full of life and always friendly. Jesse’s father said he was planning to help his son make gingerbread houses at school, but that same morning their lives were changed forever.

“Jesse died bravely trying to lead other children to safety,” his family said in an obituary. “He ran into the hallway to help when he heard the shots. In our hearts we already knew because that was the way he lived his life - fearless, full of courage and strength.  We take comfort in knowing what a brave child he was. His actions were consistent with the way he lived his life; passionately embracing everything, a perfect combination of courage and faith, like a little soldier, his favorite toy.”

Other victims

Rachel Davino, 29; Anne Marie Murphy, 25; Josephine Gay, 7; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine Hsu, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Caroline Previdi, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6.

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