The victims: Careers of caring cut short; little lives of play and promise ended
(CNN) — When a gunman opened fire inside a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school Friday, he cut short 26 lives. Six women who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary were killed, in addition to 20 students — twelve girls and eight boys — according to state police.
Here are details about their lives:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Charlotte was sweet, outgoing and full of energy, her grandmother told CNN affiliate WCCO in Minnesota.
“This is tough. This is surreal. You can’t believe this could happen,” Irene Hagen told the station. “The whole family is just devastated and we’re all trying to come to terms with it.”
She said her granddaughter loved school and dresses. Her hair was a mass of beautiful red curls.
“It’s horrible. It’s really horrible,” Hagen told WCCO. “It’s hard to believe that someone would kill children, innocent children.”
Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel earned his missing two front teeth, his family used to say. His “fearless” pursuit of happiness and life also earned him ripped jeans.
“Despite that, he was, as his mother said, ‘Just So Good,’ ” his family wrote in a statement published in the New Haven Register.
Taking after his musician dad, he and his siblings — brother James and sister Natalie — formed a band, in which he played drums.
He loved to ride waves at the beach and make s’mores around bonfires with his cousins.
“He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world,” the family said.
Rachel D’Avino, 29
She likely didn’t know it when she died, but her best friend was about to propose.
He had recently asked D’Avino’s parents for permission, and he was planning to ask for her hand in marriage on Christmas Eve.
That and other details about D’Avino’s life were described in an obituary posted on the website of Munson-Lovetere Funeral Homes of Connecticut.
“Her presence and tremendous smile brightened any room she entered,” it read.
Born in Waterbury, she received her undergraduate degree from the University of Hartford and her master’s from Post University. She was working toward her doctorate at the University of St. Joseph of Hartford.
Rachel loved karate, cooking, animals, photography and her two younger siblings.
“Her passion, however, was her occupation as a behavioral therapist working with children within the autism spectrum,” the obituary read.
In lieu of flowers, it asked that donations be made to Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization.
Olivia Engel, 6
Her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb; pink and purple were her favorite colors.
Olivia’s family posted a statement on Facebook with those and other details about their beloved daughter.
“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.
Olivia took art and dance lessons, played tennis, soccer and swam. She was involved in Girl Scouts and musical theater. She loved school and did well in math and reading.
Her family described her as a “grateful child … never greedy.” Each night, Olivia led grace at the dinner table.
Dylan Hockley, 6
“To know him was to love him,” Dylan’s grandmother told the Boston Herald about her grandson.
Dylan loved video games, jumping on a trampoline, watching movies and munching garlic bread, she said. He had dimples, blue eyes and “the most mischievous little grin,” Theresa Moretti told the newspaper.
She said her daughter and son-in-law moved to Connecticut from England and chose to live where they did because of the schools. Dylan had an older brother.
“He was an angel,” Moretti told the Herald. “And I think that’s now why he’s in heaven.”
Chase Kowalski, 7
What Chase really wanted for Christmas was two front teeth.
“I saw him two days ago, and I asked him if he wanted to see Santa, and he told me that he wanted his teeth back, and it was really sweet,” Chase’s neighbor Keeley Baumann, 13, told News Times.
At 6, he completed his first triathlon, but that was just one of his pursuits. He loved baseball. He was in the Cub Scouts. 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,” the family said in an obituary.
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
Hochsprung, who became Sandy Hook Elementary School’s principal two years ago, was “really nice and very fun, but she was also very much a tough lady in the right sort of sense,” friend Tom Prunty said. And the students loved her. “Even little kids know when someone cares about them, and that was her,” he said.
“I never saw her without a smile,” said Aimee Seaver, the mother of a first-grader.
Hochsprung lived in Woodbury, Connecticut, with her husband, two daughters and three stepdaughters.
The longtime career educator majored in special education for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the 1990s and entered the Ph.D. program at Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges in New York last summer. Hochsprung led a school district’s strategic planning panel and was the recipient of a national school grant.
Her accomplishments included overseeing the installation of a new security system requiring every visitor to ring the front entrance’s doorbell after the school doors locked at 9:30 a.m.
“My mom, Dawn Hochsprung, was taken tragically from me. But she went down in a blaze of glory that truly represents who she was,” her daughter, Cristina Hassinger, tweeted.
Jesse Lewis, 6
Jesse loved math, riding horses and playing at his mom’s farm, his father told the New York Post.
“He was just a happy boy,” Neil Heslin said. “Everybody knew Jesse.”
He told the newspaper that his son was to make gingerbread houses at school Friday. Heslin was planning to help.
Instead, the last time he saw his son was when he dropped him off at school at 9 a.m.
“He was going to go places in life,” Heslin told the Post.
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
“One, two, three, ready and go,” Ana counts down in a homemade video provided to CNN affiliate WTIC.
The girl in pigtails stands in front of a piano as her brother plays. Her voice is clear, bigger than her size. Ana smiles and waves.
Her father, Jimmy Greene, is a jazz musician. His representative released a statement on Ana’s death, describing the little girl as “beautiful and vibrant.”
“The family has requested privacy at this time of heartbreaking loss,” it read. They “have asked us to relay their sincere gratitude for the outpouring of support and sympathy locally, nationally and internationally.”
James Mattioli, 6
As he was quick to remind everyone, James was 6 and ¾.
“He loved to wear shorts and T-shirts in any weather and grab the gel to spike his hair,” his family said in a loving obituary. “He would often sing at the top of his lungs, and once asked, ‘How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?’ “
Indoors, he spent his time playing games on the iPad — especially the lawn mowing one. Outdoors, he loved to dive off the diving board, “swim like a fish” in his grandfather’s pool and ride his bike — without training wheels, mind you.
“I need to go outside, Mom. I need fresh air,” he would often say.
He was born four weeks early — because he was hungry, his family joked.
James had a voracious appetite. His favorites? His dad’s egg omelets with bacon, and his mom’s French toast.
He looked up to his older sister, wanting to do everything she could.
“They were the best of friends, going to school together, playing games together, and making endless drawings and crafts together.”
The boy, whose family fondly called “J,” will be incredibly missed, they said.
His mother, Cindy Mattioli, grew up in Sherrill, New York. Mayor William Vineall told the Utica Observer-Dispatch, “It’s a terrible tragedy, and we’re a tight community. Everybody will be there for them, and our thoughts and prayers are there for them.”
In Sherrill on Sunday, the Rev. William Mesmer led about 600 people in prayer at St. Helena Church, hoping to help this small community find “the strength to continue on.”
“We do believe that despite tragedy, something good will come of this,” Mesmer said. “Time heals, and from tragedy always comes brightness. From tragedy will come a new day, and that’s what we live on.”
Grace McDonnell, 7
The ultimate “girly girl,” Grace loved wearing pink and playing dress-up with jewelry, her grandmother told the Boston Herald.
As Mary Ann McDonnell spoke, she was surrounded by Christmas presents meant for Grace, or Gracie, as she was sometimes called.
The little girl loved art, gymnastics, soccer and her small spaniel, Puddin’, her grandmother said.
“She was a wonderful little girl. She was always smiling,” McDonnell told the newspaper. “I think everybody should know about these beautiful children whose lives were cut short.”
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
A hero. That’s how a first responder reportedly described Murphy to her father.
He told Newsday that authorities told him her body was found in a classroom, covering young children killed in the shooting in an apparent attempt to shield them.
“She died doing what she loved. She was serving children and serving God,” Murphy’s mother, Alice McGowan, told the newspaper.
A married mother of four, Murphy was artistic and hardworking, her parents said.
“She was a happy soul,” her mother told Newsday. “She was a very good daughter, a good mother, a good wife.”
Emilie Parker, 6
She could “light up a room,” Emilie’s father said about his oldest daughter.
Robbie Parker described her as “bright, creative and very loving.” Emilie was always willing to try new things, he said, except food. Her laugh was infectious.
“My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing up and giving her love and support to all of those victims, because that is the type of person she is,” Parker said.
He said she was “an exceptional artist and she always carried around her markers and pencils so she never missed an opportunity to draw a picture or make a card for someone.”
“This world is a better place because she has been in it,” Parker said.
Emilie’s aunt described her niece as the “sweetest little girl I’ve ever known.”
The family is devastated that “someone so beautiful and perfect is no longer going to be in our lives and for no reason,” said Jill Cottle Garrett.
Emilie’s father, who works as a physician’s assistant in the newborn unit at the Danbury hospital, recalled his last conversation with his daughter was in Portuguese, a language he was teaching her.
“She said that she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door,” he said.
Jack Pinto, 6
Jack was a first-grader, and his interests ran the gamut — baseball, basketball, wrestling, snow skiing. But his first love was football, and his idol was New York Giants star receiver Victor Cruz.
Cruz paid tribute to the team’s young fan by scribbling “Jack Pinto. My Hero” on one of his cleats and “R.I.P. Jack Pinto” on the other during the team’s game with the Atlanta Falcons over the weekend. On his glove, Cruz wrote, “Jack Pinto. This one is 4 U!”
“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,” Jack’s family wrote in an obituary for the little boy.
Noah Pozner, 6
“He had a huge heart and he was so much fun, a little bit rambunctious, lots of spirit,” Noah’s aunt told CNN. “He was really the light of the room.”
Victoria Haller said her nephew loved playing with his cousins and siblings, especially his twin sister.
“He was a gorgeous, gorgeous boy and he could really get what he wanted just by batting those long eyelashes and looking at you with those big blue eyes. You really couldn’t say no to him,” she said.
His siblings don’t know yet the exact way in which Noah passed away, Haller said.
“How do you tell them that’s how their brother died?” she asked. “It’s the unthinkable really.”
Jessica Rekos, 6
Jessica loved everything about horses — horse movies, horse books, drawing horses and writing stories about them.
She asked Santa this year for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat. Her family had promised she could get her own horse when she turned 10.
“She was a creative, beautiful little girl,” her family said in a statement, describing Jessica as their “rock.”
“She had an answer for everything, she didn’t miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time. We called her our little CEO for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything,” they said. “We cannot imagine our life without her.”
Jessica also loved orca whales and playing with her two little brothers.
“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,” her family said.
Avielle Richman, 6
Avielle was happiest when she was on a horse.
Her trainer, Annette Sullivan, told the Connecticut Post that Avielle would “giggle when she trotted.”
Like kids her age, her first loose tooth was a sign she was growing up.
“She showed me her wiggly tooth, she was so excited,” Sullivan told the newspaper. “She was the most delightful little girl you ever met in your life.”
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Rousseau, a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, “wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten,” her mother said in a written statement Saturday. “We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream,” Teresa Rousseau said.
She grew up in Danbury, Connecticut, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport.
Rousseau “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,” her mother said.
Mary Sherlach, 56
Sherlach, Sandy Hook Elementary’s school psychologist, was with Hochsprung when they heard a “pop, pop, pop” sound around 9:30 a.m., a parent with both women at the time told CNN. Sherlach was shot to death after heading into the hall to find out what was happening.
“I … am always ready to assist in problem-solving, intervention and prevention,” Sherlach wrote on her website.
Sherlach earned her undergraduate degree in psychology at SUNY Cortland and a master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University. She worked as a rehabilitation assistant at a group home for disabled adults and as a community mental health placement specialist before becoming a school psychologist.
She worked in three Connecticut school systems before moving to Sandy Hook Elementary in 1994. During her time in Newtown, Sherlach kept busy as a member of numerous groups such as the district conflict resolution committee, safe school climate committee, crisis intervention team and student instructional team.
Sherlach and her husband for more than three decades lived in Trumbull, Connecticut, and, together, they were “proud parents” of two daughters in their late 20s. Her website listed her interests as gardening, reading and going to the theater.
Victoria Soto, 27
Soto, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, moved her students away from the classroom door when she heard gunfire, which students initially “thought were hammers falling,” according to the father of one of her students.
“That’s when the gunman burst in, did not say a word, no facial expressions, and proceeded to shoot their teacher,” said Robert Licata, whose 6-year-old son, Aiden, escaped by running past the shooter.
Soto’s mother said her daughter was selfless.
“She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself, and especially children. She loved them more than life, and she would definitely put herself in front of them any day,” Donna Soto told CNN’s Piers Morgan.
Soto had wanted to be a teacher since she was 3 and talked about her students with “such fondness and caring,” her mother said.
Soto’s cousin, James Wiltsie, said Soto “instinctively went into action, when a monster came into her classroom, and tried to protect the kids that she loved so much.”
“We just want the public to know that Vicki was a hero,” he said.
Soto had a dog she loved. The black lab Roxie spent Saturday wandering around Soto’s apartment, apparently looking for her, relatives said.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Benjamin’s parents moved to Newtown from New York City in April 2011 so the boy could grow up in a quiet community.
His father, David, worked in the film and television industry. His mother is a music teacher and performer.
“Music can happen anywhere,” his mother, Francine Wheeler, told the Newtown Bee in an interview. “We knew we wanted a piece of lawn, somewhere quiet, somewhere with good schools.”
Benjamin would follow his dad around the yard, helping him with chores by handing him tools, neighbor Peter Bearce told the Connecticut Post.
On Sunday, Francine Wheeler’s band posted the following message on its Facebook page:
“With heavy hearts, we inform you of our saddest news: Francine Wheeler, a founding member of The Dream Jam Band, has lost her precious 6-year old son, Ben, to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Our prayers and love go out to Francine, David and Ben’s big brother, Nate.”
Josephine Gay, 7
Josephine celebrated her seventh birthday Tuesday, the Hartford Courant reports. There’s a picture of her on the Web, which has been published in news stories, that shows her smiling with glasses on the tip of her nose.
Josephine liked to ride her bike and sell lemonade in her neighborhood in the summer, The Wall Street Journal said. The little girl loved the color purple.
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Little information about Madeleine has been reported, but several news organizations have said that a doctor who knows Hsu’s family went to her house to comfort family members.
Catherine Hubbard, 6
A Facebook page honoring her spoke of how the elementary-schooler is now an angel.
“Such a beautiful little soul,” the post read, saying the family’s loss is heaven’s gain. “God bless you all that you be strengthened, we are with you, and your suffering will remain in our prayers.”
Caroline Previdi, 6
“You were a sweet little girl and you will be missed.”
That’s the message that Caroline’s aunt reportedly tweeted, saying goodbye to her niece, according to the online version of the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, California.
“It hurts even more to see a familiar name on that list,” the report said Paige Tremblay also tweeted.
A Facebook page called “RIP Caroline Previdi — Sandy Hook Massacre Victim” contains dozens of messages. One reads: “Rest in Peace, sweetheart. I know for sure that God is with you and all the other sweet little angels. I feel so very sorry for all these families who lost their precious kids, my heart goes out to all of you.”
Allison Wyatt, 6
Allison was a shy and quiet little girl, and incredibly sweet, several reports say.
“I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your little girl,” someone wrote on a Facebook page in Allison’s name.
“My heart grieves; as I parent, I know it is not something you can ever be prepared for.”
CNN’s Alan Duke, Danielle Dellorto, Jason Carroll and Kate Bolduan contributed to this report.