They were pianists and painters, swimmers and dancers, budding readers, little brothers and big sisters. Then, in a flash of violence, their 20 bright smiles were snuffed out forever in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary that haunts the nation to this day.
Also stolen that chilly Friday – just 11 days before Christmas – were six adults felled by the same gunman as they refused to abandon their sacred trust to safeguard the smallest among them.
Ten years later, even those who have never set foot near Newtown, Connecticut, can conjure the scene painted by police of a first-grade classroom turned into a killing field. Can see the faces of anguished parents desperate for proof of life, then later, tiny caskets overloaded with stuffed animals never to be named.
Since the December 14, 2012, massacre, a new school has been built for the students of a town known, now and for decades to come, as a cradle of grief – but also of untold love and quiet resilience. In that spirit, some survivors have pressed to the highest court in the land for changes that might thwart another nightmare like theirs. Others have refused to succumb to a cruel lie that mocks their eternal sorrow.
The 12 girls, eight boys and six women whose futures were taken that day will be remembered, always. Here is a glimpse of what we learned about them in the days after they were lost:
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, he and his siblings – brother James and sister Natalie – formed a band. Daniel played drums.
He loved to ride waves at the beach and make s’mores around bonfires with his cousins.
“He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world,” the family said.
Rachel D’Avino, 29
She probably 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.” Each night, Olivia led grace at the dinner table.
Josephine Gay, 7
Josephine celebrated her seventh birthday just days before she died. In one picture, published in various news stories, she’s smiling with glasses on the tip of her nose.
Josephine liked to ride her bike and sell lemonade in her neighborhood in the summer, The Wall Street Journal reported. The little girl loved the color purple.
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dylan and his family had moved from England to Connecticut two years before he died.
“We specifically chose Sandy Hook for the community and the elementary school. We do not and shall never regret this choice,” Dylan’s family said in a statement. “Our boys have flourished here, and our family’s happiness has been limitless.”
Dylan’s family said he loved to cuddle and play tag with neighbors at the bus stop every morning.
“He was learning to read and was so proud when he read us a new book every day,” the family said. “He adored his big brother Jake, his best friend and role model.”
Dylan’s parents also expressed gratitude to the educators who died with their son.
“We cannot speak highly enough of Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, exceptional women who knew both our children,” the family said. “Dylan’s teacher, Vicki Soto, was warm and funny and Dylan loved her dearly. We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy. Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day.
“Though our hearts break for Dylan, they are also filled with love for these and the other beautiful women who all selflessly died trying to save our children.”
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
Hochsprung, who became Sandy Hook Elementary’s principal two years before the shooting, 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,” he 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. Hochsprung led a school district’s strategic planning panel and was the recipient of a national school grant.
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.
“My mom, Dawn Hochsprung, was taken tragically from me. But she went down in a blaze of glory that truly represents who she was,” her daughter, Cristina Hassinger, tweeted.
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Sweet. Unique. Bright. Determined. Sparking.
Those are words Madeleine’s family used to describe their little girl.
“She was an avid reader who loved running and dancing,” they said. “She was a born leader.”
Catherine Hubbard, 6
The little girl with bright red hair will be remembered for her smile and her love of animals.
Catherine is survived by her older brother, her parents, grandparents, great-grandmother, uncles, aunts and nine cousins.
“Her family prays that she, all the students of Sandy Hook Elementary, and all those affected by this brutal event find peace in their hearts,” they wrote in her obituary.
A Facebook page honoring Catherine spoke of how she is now an angel.
“Such a beautiful little soul,” the post read, saying the family’s loss is heaven’s gain.
Chase Kowalski, 7
What Chase really wanted for Christmas was his two front teeth.
“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 the News-Times newspaper.
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.
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
“One, two, three, 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 ¾.
“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.
“I need to go outside, Mom. I need fresh air,” he would often say.
He was born four 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 him “J,” will be incredibly missed, they said.
Grace McDonnell, 7
Grace was the “light and love of our family,” her mother told CNN.
She loved her brother, school, the beach and wanted to be a painter.
For her seventh birthday in November, Grace requested a purple cake with a turquoise peace sign and polka dots. And that’s exactly what she got.
“She was all about peace and gentleness and kindness,” Lynn McDonnell told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Grace didn’t have an ounce of hate in her, and so we have to live through Grace and realize that hate is not how our family is.”
The family drew cupcakes, ice creams cones, lighthouses and seagulls – all things Grace loved – on her tiny white casket.
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.