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Conn. victims: Lively youngsters, devoted adults

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 20, 2012 at 10:20 am •  Published: December 20, 2012
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They wrote in his obituary that 6-year-old James, fondly called 'J,' loved hamburgers with ketchup, his Dad's omelets with bacon, and his Mom's French toast. He often asked to stop at Subway and wanted to know how old he needed to be to order a footlong sandwich.

He loved sports and wore shorts and T-shirts no matter the weather. He was a loud and enthusiastic singer and once asked, "How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?"

His family recalled that he was an early-riser who was always ready to get up and go. He and his older sister were the best of friend. He was a thoughtful and considerate child, recently choosing to forgo a gift for himself and use the money to buy his grandfather a mug for Christmas.

His funeral is Tuesday.

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GRACE AUDREY McDONNELL, 7

With broken hearts, the parents of Grace Audrey McDonnell said Sunday they couldn't believe the outpouring of support they've received since the little girl who was the center of their lives died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Lynn and Chris McDonnell called their 7-year-old daughter "the love and light" of their family in a statement released by the little girl's uncle.

The family also shared a photo featuring Grace smiling into the camera, her eyes shining and a pink bow adorning her long blonde hair.

"Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss," the McDonnells said.

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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."

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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, 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.

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JACK PINTO, 6

Jack Pinto was a huge New York Giants fan. Wide receiver Victor Cruz honored Jack on Sunday on his cleats, writing on them the words "Jack Pinto, My Hero" and "R.I.P. Jack Pinto."

"I also spoke to an older brother and he was distraught as well. I told him to stay strong and I was going to do whatever I can to honor him," Cruz said after the Giant's game with the Atlanta Falcons. "He was fighting tears and could barely speak to me."

Cruz said he planned to give the gloves he wore during the game to the boy's family, and spend some time with them.

"There's no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on," he said. "I can't even explain it."

Jack's funeral and burial were Monday.

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NOAH POZNER, 6

Noah was "smart as a whip," gentle but with a rambunctious streak, said his uncle, Alexis Haller of Woodinville, Wash.

He was part of a big family. His twin sister, Arielle, assigned to a different classroom, survived the shooting. He called Arielle his best friend and loved her dearly, along with big sisters Danielle and Sophia and big brother Michael.

"They were always playing together, they loved to do things together," Haller said. When his mother, a nurse, would tell him she loved him, he would answer, "Not as much as I love you, Mom.'"

Haller said Noah loved to read and liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. He was already a very good reader. He loved animals, video games and Nintendo's Mario Brothers characters. For his birthday two weeks ago, he got a new Wii.

Noah was looking forward to reading a new "Ninjago" book he'd just bought at a book fair. He was also very excited about going to a birthday party he had been invited to. It was to take place Saturday.

"He was just a really lively, smart kid," Haller said. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."

A funeral was held Monday, followed by burial.

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CAROLINE PREVIDI, 6

"Silly Caroline" Previdi had an infectious grin and a giving heart.

Karen Dryer, a neighbor, remembered how Caroline would ride the bus with her son, Logan, when he got scared. She'd sit with him, make sure he felt safe, and play peek-a-boo over the seat to distract him.

"My son refers to her as 'Silly Caroline,'" said Dryer, who is still wrestling with how to talk to her son about the shootings. "She's just a girl that was always smiling, always wanting others to smile."

"Caroline Phoebe Previdi was a blessing from God and brought joy to everyone she touched," her parents, Jeff and Sandy Previdi, said in a statement. "We know that she is looking down on us from Heaven."

Family friend David Sutch, who lives in Brookfield, Mo., described the Previdis as loving and compassionate, always having other children over to the house, willing to befriend anyone.

"I can't imagine a family that deserved this less," he said.

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JESSICA REKOS, 6

"Jessica loved everything about horses," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos said in a statement. "She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses, and writing stories about horses."

When she turned 10, they promised, she could have a horse of her own. For Christmas, she asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

The Rekoses described their daughter as "a creative, beautiful little girl who loved playing with her little brothers, Travis and Shane.

"She spent time writing in her journals, making up stories, and doing 'research' on orca whales — one of her passions after seeing the movie 'Free Willy' last year." Her dream of seeing a real orca was realized in October when she went to SeaWorld.

Jessica, first born in the family, "was our rock," the parents said. "She had an answer for everything, she didn't miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time." A thoughtful planner, she was "our little CEO."

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AVIELLE RICHMAN, 6

The curly-headed little girl known as Avie Richman loved a lot of things. Horses. Harry Potter. The color red. She tried archery after watching the Disney movie "Brave." She told her parents that her dream car was a minivan. To reward her for reading over the summer, they took her to lunch.

Avie had moved to Sandy Hook from San Diego about two years ago with her parents, Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel.

"They still call Avielle their California girl," Melissa C. Stewart, a family friend, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "When they first moved here, it was hard to keep shoes on Avielle because she was so used to running barefoot on the beach in San Diego."

In a blog called "Avielle's Adventures," Jeremy Richman would tell friends about their family life: trips to the Thanksgiving Day parade in Stamford, Arielle's 6th birthday at the horse stable, a road trip to Iowa.

In August, he wrote about the newest milestone for his "little hummingbird," who was about to start first grade.

"We can't believe it," he wrote. "Jenn and I are both very nervous and excited."

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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 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 theater.

"I'm used to having people die who are older," her mother said, "not the person whose room is up over the kitchen."

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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.

Sherlach's 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."

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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."

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BENJAMIN WHEELER, 6

Music surrounded Benjamin Wheeler as he grew up in a household where both his mother and father were performers. They left behind stage careers in New York City when they moved to Newtown with Benjamin and his older brother, Nate.

"We knew we wanted a piece of lawn, somewhere quiet, somewhere with good schools," Francine Wheeler told the Newtown Bee in a profile.

Ben was spirited and energetic. He was taking swim lessons, and at soccer practice, he'd often be running across the field long after it was necessary. A recent accomplishment, his family said, was performing at a piano recital this month — and sitting still long enough to play one piece.

Francine, a music educator and singer-songwriter, used to make up songs for Ben when he was a baby. Some eventually found their way onto a CD, she told the local newspaper. Ben's father, David, still writes and performs, according to a profile on the website of the Flagpole Radio Cafe theater.

Before school on Friday, Ben had told his mother he wanted to be an architect — but also a paleontologist.

"That's what Nate is going to be," he told his mom. "And I want to do everything Nate does."

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ALLISON WYATT, 6

Allison Wyatt was a kind-hearted little girl who formed special bonds with almost everyone she met. She'd surprise her family with her random acts of kindness — once even offering her snacks to a stranger on a plane, her family recalled.

She loved her teachers and her family. Sometimes, she'd make her parents laugh so hard they cried. She wanted to be an artist, and her drawings would be taped to the walls as if the house were an art studio.

"Allison made the world a better place for six, far too short, years and we now have to figure out how to move on without her," her family said in a statement. "She was a sweet, creative, funny, intelligent little girl who had an amazing life ahead of her. Our world is a lot darker now that she's gone. We love and miss her so much."

Her grandparents' church in Dayton, Ohio, encouraged parishioners to pray for the family.

On Friday, after news of the shooting broke, one of Allison's aunts posted on Facebook that her nieces attended Sandy Hook school, and asked for prayer. "One is fine and the other is missing at this time," she wrote. "We are remaining positive at this time and counting on the power of prayer."

Later, after news of Allison's death, she asked for prayer again.

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Associated Press writers Christina Rexrode, Denise Lavoie, Mark Scolforo, Allen Breed, Pat Eaton-Robb, Bridget Murphy, Christopher Sullivan and Danica Coto contributed to this report.