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UNTHINKABLE HORROR: MASSACRE IN CONNECTICUT


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Victims were filled with love for school

By Matt Sedensky

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:39 a.m. HST, Dec 16, 2012

<br />ASSOCIATED PRESS photos<br />From left, Jean Bradley, Steven Turchetta, 9, Jean's son Matthew Bradley, 9, Ashton Baltes, 10, and his mother Elonda Baltes paid their respects Saturday at a memorial for shooting victims near Sandy Hook Elementary School. The three friends play on the same hockey team and wanted to visit the memorial after finishing a game nearby.<br />

Newtown, Conn. » 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:

» Olivia Engel, 6, student: The images of Olivia 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.

Dan Merton, a longtime friend of the girl's family, said she was simply excited to go to school Friday and return home and make a gingerbread house.

"Her only crime," he said, "is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old."

» 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, 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."

» Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student: A year ago, Ana 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 Ana's family moved to Connecticut just two months ago, drawn from Canada, in part, by Sandy Hook's pristine reputation. The grandmother's brother, Jorge Marquez, is mayor of a Puerto Rican town and said the child's 9-year-old brother was also at the school, but escaped safely.

Elba Marquez had just visited the new home over Thanksgiving and finds herself perplexed by what happened.

"It was a beautiful place, just beautiful," she said. "What happened does not match up with the place where they live."

» Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal: 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 last week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert.

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, 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.

» Chase Kowalski, 7, student: Chase was always outside, playing in the backyard, 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.

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.

» Emilie Parker, 6, student: Quick to cheer up those in need of a smile, Emilie 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 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. 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.






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