Portraits of Conn. shooting victims show lives at their very start, ended in hail of gunfire
Most died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit for anyone regardless of age. Others found their life’s work in sheltering 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:
Charlotte Bacon, 6, student
They were supposed to be for the holidays, but finally on Friday, after 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.”
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 Friday, Merton said, she was simply excited to go to school and then return home and make a gingerbread house.
“Her only crime,” he said, “is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old.”
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.”
Madeleine Hsu, 6, student
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.
Catherine Hubbard, 6, student
A family friend turned reporters away from the house, 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.”
Chase Kowalski, 7, student
Chase Kowalski was always outside, playing in the backyard, riding his bicycle. Just last week, he was visiting neighbour 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.
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 neighbourhood, 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 neighbour, Rhonda Cullens, said she knew Nancy Lanza from get-togethers she had hosted to play Bunco, a dice game. She said her neighbour had enjoyed gardening.
“She was a very nice lady,” Cullens said. “She was just like all the rest of us in the neighbourhood, just a regular person.”
Jesse Lewis, 6, student
Six-year-old Jesse Lewis had hot chocolate with his favourite breakfast sandwich — sausage, egg and cheese — at the neighbourhood 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.”
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student
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.”
James Mattioli, 6, student
The upstate New York town of Sherrill is thinking of Cindy Mattioli, who grew up there and lost her son James in the school shooting in Connecticut.
“It’s a terrible tragedy, and we’re a tight community,” Mayor William Vineall told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. “Everybody will be there for them, and our thoughts and prayers are there for them.”
James’ grandparents, Jack and Kathy Radley, still live in the city, the newspaper reported.
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.”
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 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.
Noah Pozner, 6, student
The way Noah Pozner’s parents saw it, no schools in New York could compare with those in Newtown, a relative told Newsday. So they moved their family — Noah, his twin sister and his 8-year-old sister.
“At this stage, two out of three survived. … That’s sad,” said Noah’s uncle Arthur Pozner, of New York City’s Brooklyn borough. “The reason they moved to that area is because they did not consider any school in New York state on the same level. That’s one of the reasons they moved, for safety and education.”
Noah’s siblings were also students there but were not hurt. Noah’s uncle recalled him as “extremely mature.”
“When I was his age, I was not like him,” Pozner told the newspaper. “Very well brought up. Extremely bright. Extremely bright.”
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 realised 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 theatre.
“I’m used to having people die who are older,” her mother said, “not the person whose room is up over the kitchen.”
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 neighbour, 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. 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.”
Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie, Mark Scolforo, Allen Breed and Danica Coto contributed to this report.