Monday, December 11, 2017

'Always smiling' Portraits of Conn. victims

Most died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit no matter one's age. Others found their life's work in sheltering these little ones, teaching them, caring for them, treating them as their own. After the gunfire ended Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the trail of loss was more than many could bear: 20 children and six adults at the school, the gunman's mother at home, and the gunman himself. A glimpse of some of those who died:

School staff members

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, 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.

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."

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.

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 paper.

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.

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 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."


Daniel Barden, 7

Daniel was a first-grader and beloved youngest son of a doting mother and father, according to friends and neighbors. His parents tried to keep their children active, shuttling Daniel off to swim practice and other activities. "This is warm, loving family,'' said a co-worker of Daniel's mother, Jackie Barden.

Olivia Engel, 6

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. Dan Merton, a longtime friend of the girl's family, said that Friday she was 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."

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. The girl's grandmother, Elba Marquez, said the child's family moved to Connecticut just two months ago. The grandmother's brother, Jorge Marquez, confirmed the girl's father is jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who wrote on Facebook that he was trying to "work through this nightmare. ... I love you sweetie girl."

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dylan smiles online in a series of family photos. He's Shrek, his mom writes. Or he's "Super Dylan" — posed in a Superman outfit. In other images, he poses with his brother, Jake. Dylan's family had lived across Yogananda Street from where the violence began. Their neighbor was Nancy Lanza.

Chase Kowalski, 7

Chase Kowalski was always outside, playing in the back yard, 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.

Jesse Lewis, 6

Kevin Samoskevich works in construction in Shelton, Conn., and he often ran into Neil Heslin, a fellow building contractor, at the Dew Drop Donut shop in town. Heslin's son, Jesse Lewis, was always beside him. "He was a happy child," Samoskevich said. "A typical boy who was always in and out of things," on the job sites.

Grace McDonnell, 7

Chris, Lynn and Jack McDonnell, the parents and older brother of Grace McDonnell, sent in a short statement to the Washington Post: "We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from so many people. Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family." Todd Werden, a neighbor, described Grace as "a real cute little blonde girl with blue eyes — a real little doll."

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, blonde, always-smiling girl who loved to try new things, except for new 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. "I'm so blessed to be her dad," he said.

Noah Pozner, 6

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Adath Israel in Newtown, Conn., said his congregation lost a young member, first-grader Noah Pozner. Praver said Noah would be laid to rest today.

Caroline Previdi, 6

Caroline once went by the nickname "Boo" because she looked like the girl character in the movie Monsters, Inc., a family friend told the Washington Post. "She was a total sweetheart. She was adorable." Another friend who lives in the Newtown area told the Post that Caroline loved gymnastics.

Jessica Rekos, 6

In a pale pink polo dress, Jessica's grayish-blue eyes beam into the camera lens. Her arm is wrapped around her younger brother, who has the same eyes. "They are absolute clones of you guys" says a Facebook friend, commenting on the photo Jessica's mother, Krista Lehman Rekos, posted Nov. 9.

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Benjamin, was "a very spirited boy," said Rabbi Praver. He and his parents, David and Francine Wheeler, were not members of the synagogue, but they attended its Hanukkah celebration. "There's always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler," he said.

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