Sunday, December 16, 2012

In Loving Honor and Memory of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims

On Friday morning I found myself delving into a big week for New York sports. It was a beautiful, brisk day in New York and I was ready to discuss Braylon Edwards' return to the Jets, Kevin Youkilis's signing with the Yankees, and the masterful way the Knicks beat both the Nets and the Heat within days of each other. And then tragedy struck. As I sat at my desk, I watched as Newtown, Connecticut went from a relatively unknown town to a household name. I turned on the news, and like much of the nation, found myself glued to the details as they very slowly emerged from the Sandy Hook Elementary School. I prayed that the earliest reports of very few injuries would hold true. Unfortunately, as more information became available, the truth was worse than anything we could have ever imagined. An armed gunman entered a kindergarten through fourth grade school and opened fire on our nation's most innocent and vibrant children and those who made it their life's work to educate, love, and mentor them. Today, as I finally have my thoughts together and enough information is available to paint a relatively clear picture of the day's events, I feel it is my duty as a journalist, a former preschool teacher, and an American, to honor the twenty-seven people who were stolen from this Earth and their families far before their time.

There have obviously been far too many mass murders and school shootings in recent history. I can tell you that if asked the names or to pick out the pictures of the murderers from many of the attacks, I could tell you rather quickly. But could I name any of the victims? Could I recognize a picture of any of the thirteen people lost in the Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999? Do I know the names of any of the thirty-two victims of the Virgina Tech shooting, the deadliest school shooting in US history? Do I remember any of the personal stories of the twelve people murdered in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado just this past summer? The sad answer is probably not. As we learned more details about the tragedy in the Sandy Hook Elementary school, I decided that I would make the conscious decision not to remember the terrorist who entered the building and stole so many young, precious lives. I won't mention his name. I don't care to know any details about him. Instead, I will dedicate that area of my memory to his twenty seven victims.

Mary Sherlach
Dawn Hochsprung
The first names the media was able to confirm were those of school principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and school psychologist, Mary Sherlach. The two were said to have been in a meeting in the front office, heard the commotion, and ran directly into the line of fire. Principal Hochpsrung's photo, courtesy of the Newtown Patch has been displayed prominently on many television stations while incredible descriptions of her character are read. Sherlach was a highly proclaimed educator in Newtown and its surrounding areas. She was said to be extremely gifted and talented in her work and planned to retire at the school year's end.

Victoria Soto, 27, became another recognizable victim as stories of her heroism in her final moments came to light. The first grade teacher who was killed along with five of her students shielded many of them with her own body and saving their lives. 
Victoria Soto
"The family was informed that she was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm, and by doing that put herself between the gunman and the children, and that's when she was tragically shot and killed," Jim Wiltsie, Soto's cousin, told ABC News.
The young, vibrant woman was living out her life's dreaming of educating young students whom she loved so dearly she often referred to them as "her kids" rather than her students. Interviews with parents of Soto's students airing on many national media outlets paint the portrait of just how connected this young woman was with her students. She is their hero, and she is mine.

Lauren Rousseau
Anne Marie Murphy
With six school educators, the aforementioned along with Rachel Davino, 29, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, along with the murderer's own mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, among the dead, the most heartbreaking losses of this tragedy are those of the 20 six and seven year olds. Babies whose parents must now cope with the loss. Small children so young and naive that their own classmates described the sounds they heard as "pots and pans falling" and "pop pop pop" sounds. Kids with every birthday, holiday, graduation, every major life milestone ahead of them. I don't know how you begin to memorialize these children. There are no words to make it better or ease the pain of those who loved them desperately. We must simply remember their names and faces, honor their memory, live with them in our hearts, and lift up the fallen among us.

Emilie Parker, 6
Of the child victims, I learned of Emilie Parker's story first. I had come across a Facebook page created by family friends of the Parker family late Friday night before the official names and ages of the victims had been announced on Saturday afternoon. Friends of little Emilie's parents, Robbie and Alissa Parker, wanted to help get
The Parker Family
the word out, allow the public to offer prayer and well wishes, and share any new information as it became available. The beautiful blond was only six years old when she became one of the victims of the shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary. Emilie's father, Rob, bravely spoke out in memory of his daughter who, he said, "loved to try new things, except food." Rob Parker's statement about his beloved daughter is now on repeat on television networks worldwide, his daughter's picture plastered far and wide. Emilie was caring and wise beyond her years, she was a role model for her younger sisters. The Parkers are now faced with the challenge of explaining the loss to their younger daughters, ages 3 and 4, as they cope with the loss of their angel. The last conversation Rob had with little Emilie was in Portuguese, as he was teaching his daughter the language. "I'm so blessed to be her dad," said a choked up Rob Parker as he addressed the media.

Charlotte Bacon, 6
The families of the nineteen other six and seven year olds lost in Friday's tragedy are slowly starting to release photos and details of their precious children's lives as the days and hours pass. We have learned about Charlotte Bacon, 6, a little girl whose uncle, John Hagen, said she "could light up the room for anyone." According to Hagan, Charlotte's mother had bought her daughter a new pink dress and boots for Christmas. After much debate, JoAnn Bacon gave in and allowed her daughter to wear the outfit she was so excited over on Friday. Who could have known that that would be the last outfit little Charlotte would ever wear? Charlotte's older brother, Guy, also attended Sandy Hook Elementary School and survived the attack unharmed.

Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel Barden, 7, was the son of a longtime musician and the youngest of Mark and Jacqueline Barden's three children. "Everyone who has ever met Daniel remembers and loves him. Words really cannot express what a special boy Daniel was," the family said in a statement, "He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world." Daniel's big brother, James, said that on the last morning of Daniel's life he remember his little brother chasing him down the driveway in 22 degree weather to give him a kiss goodbye. In an interview with Katie Couric, the Bardens recalled how Daniel would go out of his way to make others feel better, often asking teacher if he could sit with student who were otherwise alone in class.
Olivia Engel, 6
Olivia Engel, 6, was practicing to play an angel in the live nativity at the St. Rose of Lima Church on Friday night. John Engel, Olivia's uncle and father Brian's brother, is acting as the family spokesman and shared that "she was a great big sister and was always very patient" with 3-year-old brother, Braydon. Olivia's "Uncle John" remembers how his niece loved to dance, sing, and perform for anyone who would watch. "She was a creative, outgoing, effervescent, lovely little girl," Engel recalled.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, the daughter of saxophonist, Jimmy Greene, and Nelba Marquez. Ana was the inspiration for many of her father's songs and he even named one after her, "Ana Grace." Greene is quoted in a statement saying, "As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise. I love you, sweetie girl." Ana's 9 year old brother also attends Sandy Hook elementary and survived the shooting. Ana's family said they will remember her "selfless acts of kindness: every drawing or craft project she began was envisioned not for her own enjoyment, but as a gift for another. She often left sweet notes that read, ‘I love you Mom and Dad,’ under our bedroom pillow - not on special occasions, but, rather, on ordinary days."

Dylan Hockley, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6, and his family had moved from Hampshire, England two year ago. His older brother, Jake, 8, also attends Sandy Hook Elementary. The Hockley family lives on Yogananda Street, nearly directly across from the home of the shooter's family. Dylan's grandmother, Theresa Moretti said her grandson "had dimples and blue eyes. He had the most mischievous little grin. To know him was to love him.” Dylan and school aide, Anne Marie Murphy, had a close bond and the Hockley family even had Murphy's picture displayed on their refrigerator. The woman his parents described as "amazing" was found to have been holding Dylan close when they both lost their lives in the shooting. "We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died," said his parents, Ian and Nicole Hockley. Dylan "loved to cuddle, play tag every morning at the bus stop with our neighbors, bounce on the trampoline, play computer games, watch movies, the color purple, seeing the moon and eating his favorite foods, especially chocolate," he family said in an official statement.

Catherine Hubbard, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6, was the niece of an ABC employee. The adorable six year old had fiery red hair and a matching freckles on her face. Her parents, Jennifer and Matthew, said in a statement, "We appreciate the overwhelming support from our community that we have received over the past 24 hours. We also wish to express our gratitude for all of the emergency responders who responded to this tragic incident as well as the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook School."

Chase Kowalski, 7
All Chase Kowalski wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth, said his next-door neighbor, Keeley Baumann. The seven year old was "full of life, a jokester with a great smile," said Baumann in an interview with, "constantly outside, playing on the yellow slide or swimming in the pool in his backyard. And he loved his four-wheeler." According to his obituary, Chase was a lover of baseball and played for a local team as well as being an active Cub Scout. Chase had just finished his first mini triathlon earlier this month.

Jesse Lewis, 6, and his father Neil Haslin
Jesse Lewis, 6, is remembered fondly by those who knew him. His neighbors can recall the smiling six year old always outside riding horses on the family's property. Jesse's father, Neil Haslin described his son in an interview with the Post as, "just a happy boy. Everybody knew Jesse. He was going to go places in life." Jesse and his brother, JT, loved animals and their family owned a ton: five horses, a mini horse, a mini donkey, three dogs, and chickens. Jesse's mother, Scarlett Lewis, described her son as "So bright and full of love. He lived life with vigor and passion...brave and true."

Grace McDonnell, 7
Grace McDonnell "had blonde hair and blue eyes - she was like a little Barbie doll," according to neighbor Dorothy Werden, "She was utterly adorable." In a statement to the Washington Post, Grace's parents, Chris and Lynn, and older brother, Jack, said, "Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family. Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss." Mary Ann McDonnell, Grace's grandmother, said, "“She was a wonderful little girl. She was always smiling. I think everybody should know about these beautiful children whose lives were cut short.”

Jack Pinto, 6

Jack Pinto, 6, was an avid wrestler and devoted New York Giants fan. Pinto's name has been spread across the sports media today as Giants wide receiver, Victor Cruz, has chosen to honor Jack during Sunday's game [12/16.] While all Giants, Jets, and Patriots players wore decals in honor of Sandy Brook Elementary, Cruz tweeted out a picture of his game day cleats and gloves honoring Jack's memory. Jack looked up to and wanted to be just like Cruz so badly that his parents
Courtesy of @TeamVic
have decided to bury their son wearing Cruz's #80 jersey. Cruz has been in contact with the family and has said he will visit and deliver the gloves and cleats from that game to Jack's parents.

Noah Pozner, 6
Six year old, Noah Pozner, was the youngest of Friday's victims. He, his twin sister, Arielle, and 8 year old sister, Sophia, all attended Sandy Hook Elementary, sadly, Noah was not as lucky as his sisters. The Pozner family are members of Temple Adath Israel in Newtown. Rabbi Shaul Praver spent much of the past few days consoling Noah's mother. The family had visited Brooklyn the week prior to see Noah's uncle, Arthur Pozner, in celebration of Hanukkah. He said Noah was "very inquisitive" and "a very bright boy, very mature for his age." Another uncle, Alexis Haller, of Woodinville, Washington, recalled the three siblings being "inseperable." Haller said that Noah's mother saying she loved him would always be met with a response of, "Not as much as I love you, Mom." "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad," Haller said.

Caroline Previdi, 6
A family friend who chose not to be named in the Washington Post said six year old Caroline Previdi was "a total sweetheart. She was adorable." The friend says that when she was younger, Caroline was called "Boo" due to her resemblance to the character in the movie "Monsters Inc." Caroline's older brother, Walker also attended Sandy Hook Elementary, he was unharmed during the attack. According to her obituary, Caroline had "an infectious grin and a giving heart." Jeff and Sandy Previdi, Caroline's parents, said in a statement that their daughter "was a blessing from God and brought joy to everyone she touched. We know that she is looking down on us from Heaven."

Jessica Rekos, 6
Jessica Rekos was six years old when she fell victim to the shooting in her school on Friday. Her mother, Krista, is a sixth grade teacher in the Bridgeport School District. Krista's Facebook page proudly displays photos of the children, Jessica, Travis, and Shane, and her cover photo is of Jessica and her brother with their arms draped around each from a family trip to Cape Cod. In a statement, Jessica's family said, "Jessica was our first born. She started our family, and she was our 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."

Benjamin Wheeler, 6
When David and Francine Wheeler welcomed Benjamin into their lives, they picked up themselves and older son, Nate, left their native New York City and opted to settle down in Sandy Hook. Benjamin's mother, according to the Newtown Bee, is a music teacher who also performs and records children's songs. Rabbi Shaul Praver said, "There's always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler." Ben looked up to his big brother and best friend, Nate. The family said that Friday morning before he left for Sandy Hook Elementary Ben explained to his mother, "I still want to be an architect, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that's what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does." Ben also played soccer and the piano. He was an "irrepressibly bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained," according to his parents.
Madeleine Hsu, 6

Madeleine Hsu was "very upbeat and kind," according to her neighbor, Karen Dryer. She was a big sister to Logan, 5, and she loved to wear bright colored dresses. "She was a sweet, beautiful little girl," Dryer recalls of Madeleine. Dryer's son, Logan, was a year younger than Madeleine and scared to ride the bus to school. Dryer recalls Madeleine sitting with her son and reassuring him that everything would be alright.

Josephine Gay, 7
Josephine Gay was a very kind little girl, as her neighbors told the Wall Street Journal. Josephine loved the color purple, a color that now lines her neighborhood as purple balloons hang from each home. Josephine had celebrated her seventh birthday just this past Tuesday. She enjoyed riding her bike and selling homemade lemonade to neighbors from a lemonade stand.
James Mattiolo, 6

James Mattiolo was an energetic and adventurous little boy. He loved to play sports, was a great swimmer, and was very close with his big sister, Anna. According to his obituary, James loved to sing loudly and proudly and once asked, "How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?" James was very close with his parents who he loved spending time with. He would be the first up in the house in the morning wake up his mom, Cindy, to cuddle and help his dad, Mark, whom he closely resembled, with chores around the house.
Avielle Richman, 6

Avielle Richman and her family had moved from San Diego to Newtown, Conn. in the past few years. Avielle celebrated her sixth birthday in October at the Zoar Ridge Stables. According to a blog kept by her mother, Avielle had a pony named Betty and two cats named Molokai and Sally. She was learning to horseback ride and loved going to her lessons.

Allison Wyatt is remembered by her former preschool teacher, Kate Capellaro, as "a very shy girl, she was quiet and kept to herself, but she would smile at things. If a kid did something funny, she'd be laughing." Allison had an older sister, Kate. A neighbor remembered Allison as  "kind, nice, and outgoing."

As the families of these victims are coping, there is not readily available information or photographs of all the youngest victims. If information or photographs become available, I will update and pay further tribute to these beautiful, young souls, as well. 

I did not initially intended to delve into the stories of each and every victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, however, as so much information has become available, it felt as though I had no choice but to pay my respects in the best way I know how. After researching and reading the stories of these teacher, children, and their families, I can honestly say that they have all been engrained in my mind. I know that I will remember their faces and names for years to come. Searching for the perfect photos to represent descriptions given by the families, I will recall their picture and be able to put a face to the name of each child and adult as they are discussed in the media. These 27 victims have come off the page and become real people to me. I mourn the loss of each and every one of them. My heart is broken for their families.

I don't know how you go back to normal life after a tragedy of this magnitude strikes. I am finding it hard to focus on anything other than Sandy Hook even as I am three degrees away, (one of my good friends has family in Newtown. Her cousins attended Sandy Hook Elementary and the family lives on the same street as the shooter. Thankfully, they are all safe.) Something like this affects all of us, near or far, directly related or not at all. School is supposed to be the safest place a child can go and now for 525 grade school children, they must find a way to return after such tragedy in their place of learning. My prayers are with each and every person hurting. Last night, I said the Mourner's Kaddish, a Jewish prayer said in honor of those who have passed away, in memory of the Sandy Hook victims. I hope their family and friends find comfort in their lives and that their pain is eased with every passing day. I will never forget their children. God bless.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful tribute Ashley, thank you for sharing your thoughts