NEWTOWN, Conn. — A gunman opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school on December 14, killing 26 people — 20 of them children — according to law enforcement officials. All of the children were either 6 or 7 years old. The gunman also killed his mother, police said.
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 network. “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, Daniel 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 the bonfire 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 Rachel’s parents for permission, and he was planning to ask for her hand in marriage on Christmas Eve.
That and other details about Rachel’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, Rachel received her undergraduate degree from the University of Hartford and her Masters 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.
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.” Olivia led grace each night at the dinner table.
Josephine Gay, 7
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.”
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,” Prunty said.
“I never saw her without a smile,” said Aimee Seaver, 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 had just entered the Ph.D. program at Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges in New York last summer.
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.
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Katherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
“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, Chase 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.
Nancy Lanza, 52
Before the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother — Nancy — in her home in Newtown’s Sandy Hook community, authorities said.
Adam was living with his mother, two law enforcement sources said. The other son, Ryan, was living in New Jersey.
Nancy Lanza was a personable neighbor who lived on a block of spacious houses on a crest overlooking gentle hills, acquaintances said.
She and her family moved to the Sandy Hook neighborhood about 1998, raising two sons with husband Peter until the couple separated a few years ago.
“It was just a nice, normal family,” neighbor Rhonda Cullen said Saturday, recalling a recurring neighborhood ladies night over the Bunco dice game.
At odds with this image of New England gentility was how the Lanza household possessed a cache of weapons — including an assault-style rifle and two handguns — in a community prized for its stillness.
Neighbor Gina McDade said Nancy Lanza was a “stay-at home mom” and not a teacher or part-time employee of Sandy Hook Elementary, as some media reports stated.
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,” said Neil Heslin. “Everybody knew Jesse.”
He told the newspaper 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
“1, 2, 3, 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 3/4. 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 4 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.
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, 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
Emilie “was the type of person who could light up a room,” her father told reporters Saturday. His oldest daughter was “bright, creative and very loving,” and “always willing to try new things other than food,” Robbie Parker said.
“Emilie Alice Parker was the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known,” her aunt, Jill Cottle Garrett, said. The family is devastated that “someone so beautiful and perfect is no longer going to be in our lives and for no reason,” Garrett said.
“My daugher 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,” her father said. Emilie’s “laughter was infectious,” he said. “This world is a better place because she has been in it.”
Emilie was a mentor to her two younger sisters — ages 3 and 4 — and “they looked to her when they needed comfort,” her father said.
A Facebook page was created to collect donations to help pay expenses to take Emilie back to her native Utah for burial, her aunt said.
Jack Pinto, 6
A first-grader, Jack ‘s interests ran the gamut – baseball, basketball, wrestling, snow skiing. But his first love was football, and his idol was NY 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 Ponzer, 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 can not 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 wobbly 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’s statement 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.
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.
Her students were huddled behind her in a corner of the classroom, her family said.
“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.
“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.”
While Soto had no children of her own, she did love her dog. 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.”
Allison N. Wyatt, 6
The United Way has set up the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
Check donations may be mailed to:
Sandy Hook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Bank
39 Main Street, Newtown CT 06470
You can also drop a donation off at any Newtown Savings Bank branch location, or you can donate by credit card online.