Emilie Parker, 6, carried pencils and markers so she could draw cards, such as the one she left in her grandfather’s casket when he died this year. The blond, blue-eyed girl was learning Portuguese.
Victoria Soto, 27, was a first-grade teacher who liked to tell stories about her students. She lived in a pale blue house with her mother and three siblings, sometimes shoveling snow from an ailing neighbor’s walkway.
Their lives ended on Dec. 14 when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Theirs were among 26 bodies, including 20 children, identified by authorities yesterday in the nation’s second-deadliest mass shooting. The dead students were 6 or 7, and included children such as Charlotte Bacon, Noah Pozner and Chase Kowalski. Among the dead adults was the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung.
Police haven’t explained the motive for the attack in the town of 28,000, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) northeast of New York City. Authorities identified the gunman as Adam Lanza, 20, who took his own life. His mother, Nancy, was found dead in her home. Lanza was described by those who knew him as intelligent and socially awkward, distanced from his peers.
The shooting has drawn international attention, with President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI expressing their condolences.
Emilie Parker’s father, Robert Parker, 30, a physician’s assistant, held back tears as he described a lively, loving, and kind girl.
She was a best friend to her younger sisters, and was teaching them to read and dance, Parker told reporters. His last conversation with Emilie on the day she died was in Portuguese, a language her father was teaching her. He kissed her for the last time and went to work.
“She was the type of person that could just light up the room,” he said. “Emilie’s laughter was infectious, and all those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world is a better place because she has been in it.”
Soto, the first-grade teacher, often stayed at school until 8 p.m., her sister Carlee said, and was almost finished with her master’s degree in teaching from Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.
“She strived for being her best,” Carlee said.
Her sister Jillian, 24, described Soto as a hero.
“She died protecting the kids that she loved,” Jillian said. “We’re very proud to say she’s our sister.”
Soto’s neighbor in Stratford, George Henderson, 55, who has back trouble, recalled how she shoveled his front walk with it snowed.
“She was an angel,” he said. “And God comes and takes his angels.”
Hochsprung, 47, the principal, lived with her husband, George, outside the Woodlake Condominiums in Woodbury, where an American flag stood at half staff. Neighbors remembered her planting shrubs in the courtyard, and invitations to dinner.
“She connected with my kids and always went out of her way to speak to all kids,” said Bernardo DeCastro, 39, a teacher at Roger Spring Middle School in Danbury. “She had a light in her. She was also a kind and caring grandmother.”
Mandy Ives, 49, said Hochsprung was an advocate for her son, Henry, 9, taking the time to chat with him about trains and puzzles when he attended the school this year. He transferred before the shooting.
“This is the last place you’d ever expect this to happen,” she said.
This year, Hochsprung began pursuing a doctorate in educational leadership at the Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges in Albany, New York, two hours away, where she attended weekend classes.
She showed up at a recent class with two dozen donuts for fellow students, said Janice White, one of her professors. Hochsprung wrote a paper on exhibiting courage in the face of fear, she said.
“She had the courage to put other people’s needs in front of her own,” she said.
During the attack, Hochsprung confronted the gunman after he shot through glass to enter the building, said Maryann Jacob, an assistant librarian. The gunman then shot Hochsprung, she said.