NEWTOWN, CT — Seven years have passed since Dec. 14, 2012, a day which changed Newtown forever and shocked the nation with an inexplicable act of violence that claimed the lives of 20 young children and six educators.
The students who were 6 or 7-years-old at the time would’ve been teenagers today.
The victims of the attack will never be forgotten. Many parents and other loved ones have worked to honor the memories of the victims through a number of foundations and other charitable organizations.
Throughout the years many of the family members of victims have been targeted by conspiracy theorists who say the shooting was a hoax. Harassment has gone as far as death threats for some.
Some organizations like the Sandy Hook Promise focus on reducing gun-related deaths. Unfortunately the problem of gun violence in the U.S. hasn’t gotten better since 2012. There have been 394 mass shootings and 30 mass gun murders in 2019 as of Dec. 13, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Below are the stories of the 26 victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School:
Olivia Engel, 6
Olivia Engel, 6, was fond of animals, dancing and her little brother Brayden Engel, who she helped potty train by giving him stickers.
Olivia was born in Danbury Hospital on July 18, 2006 to parents Shannon (Merlino) and Brian Engel. She took part in dance and tennis lessons and played soccer, enjoyed swimming and also liked to draw and paint in art classes.
She developed an affinity for math, reading and other subjects. She took part in her church’s CCD program. Olivia was described as being smart, bubbly and able to light up any room she walked into.
Her family has chosen the Park and Bark project as a designated donation site.
Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel Barden will be remembered as a boy who was mature for his age and regarded as an “old soul.”
He went out of his way to make other kids feel accepted, especially children who sat alone, according to his biography on What Would Daniel Do, the official site in memory of him.
Daniel was the first person to greet visitors at home and the last person to say goodbye.
The Daniel Barden Highland Mudfest was started in his honor and proceeds benefit charities including the Sandy Hook Promise.
Rachel D’Avino, 29
Rachel D’Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist at Sandy Hook Elementary School who was hailed as a hero as she comforted and protected children in the middle of the shooting.
She was working on her doctorate and her boyfriend Anthony Cerritelli was planning to ask her to marry him on Christmas Eve.
D’Avino was born in Waterbury and received her bachelors degree from the University of Hartford and a master’s degree from Post University.
Besides her work, she was passionate about animals, cooking, photography, and karate. She would often go the extra mile for her students and would host holiday events and crafting parties for them.
Josephine Gay, 7
Josephine Gay turned 7-years-old just days before the shooting.
She was fond of the color purple, peanut butter and girly things like dressing up and playing with Barbie dolls, according to the New Haven Register.
Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother, became a founder of Safe and Sound, an organization that advocates for improved school security.
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Dawn Hochsprung was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
She was memorialized as a hero who ran out to investigate the sound of gunfire coming from the halls of the school.
Hochsprung was remembered as an energetic educator who instilled a sense of fun at the school. She took part in costume days such as Inside Out and Backward Day and Pajama Day.
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6, was remembered a sweet girl, who remained upbeat. Madeleine loved to dance and was the middle child out of three girls, according to WFSB.
She also enjoyed reading.
James Mattioli, 6
James Mattioli, 6, was a fan of many sports including baseball, basketball, swimming, and arm wrestling. He would wear t-shirts and shorts in all types of weather and liked to sing at the top of his lungs. James also enjoyed spending time with his family.
He and his older sister Anna were best friends and Anna helped him advance his reading skills in first grade. He would spend the end of the day with his mom cuddling on the couch and he would take walks and do yard work with his dad.
AnneMarie Murphy, 52
AnneMarie Murphy was hailed as a hero after she attempted to shield a student during the attack.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York celebrated the Mass of Christian burial. He compared Murphy to Jesus because she selflessly gave her life in order to save others.
Mourners at her funeral in Katonah, NY, filled the entire church and church steps on a cold morning.
Murphy grew-up in New York State.
Jessica Rekos, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6, had only started taking horseback lessons as a five-year-old, but won a blue ribbon in her first and only horse show by the summer of 2012. She was also a huge fan of Orca Whales and would keep facts she learned about them from the Free Willy movies in a journal for her “whale research.”
For Christmas she asked for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat.
The Jessica Rekos Foundation was formed to continue her love of horses and whales. A two-week camp was held in the summer of 2013 and 2014 for children to receive riding instruction and lessons on proper horse care. They also got to make crafts and have fun.
The foundation also provides horseback riding lesson for students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to take weekly lessons. Money has also been put toward whale research and conservation and toward securing Newtown schools.
Avielle Richman, 6
Avielle Richman was born in San Diego in 2006. Her family moved to Newtown in January 2011. She loved music, barbie dolls, superheros, archery, and practicing kung fu with her dad. Avielle was eager to try new things, which gave her a long list of hobbies. She was also fond of naming things from pets to trees near her house.
The Avielle Foundation seeks to prevent violence by fostering brain health research and community education about brain health.
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Lauren Rousseau, 30, was a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Her mother Teresa Rousseau, a copy editor at The News-Times, said that the last year of her life was the best as she landed a permanent job at the school
She grew-up in Danbury and had always said she wanted to be a teacher, even before kindergarten. Friends and family recalled that her friendliness and love of children made her a great teacher.
The Lauren Rousseau Elementary Education Memorial Scholarship was established in her honor. It awards scholarships to applicants seeking certification in elementary education.
Mary Sherlach, 56
Mary Sherlach was the Sandy Hook Elementary School psychologist. She and Principal Dawn Hochsprung confronted the shooter in the hallway.
Colleagues throughout the years recalled that she was professional and was willing to work long hours to help people, according to an article in the American Psychological Association. She spent many mornings coaxing an anxious girl out of her mother’s car to go to school.
She also enjoyed spending time with her family and was planning on semi-retirement within a few years.
Mary’s Fund was established to support mental health services for children and teens throughout Fairfield County.
The Mary J. Sherlach Counseling Center in Trumbull was named in her honor. It provides therapy and crisis intervention to Trumbull residents, town employees and students in Trumbull schools.
Victoria Soto, 27
Victoria Soto was called a hero before the shooting by friends and family. During the shooting she hid her students in a classroom bathroom, which helped save many lives.
Soto lived in Stratford and had three siblings. Her sister Jillian said she was her hero far before the shooting and that she wanted to grow-up to be like her.
Soto was described by friends and family as goofy, but was always ready to work hard, especially for her kids.
The Vicki Soto Memorial Scholarship awards graduating seniors from Stratford High School and Bunnell High School more than $5,000 a year.
Allison Wyatt, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6, loved to draw and would give pictures to her teachers, friends, relatives and even the school bus driver.
One of her last drawings was for her first grade teacher Victoria Soto that said “I love you, Love Allie.”
Dylan Hockley, 6
Dylan’s favorite color was purple; friends and family released 26 white and purple balloons at his funeral to signify the loss on Dec. 14.
Dylan’s family had moved to Newtown from the United Kingdom about two years before December 2012, according to the New Haven Register.
He was said to have been close with his teacher AnneMarie Murphy and first responders found that he had died in her arms.
Dylan’s Wings of Change was created to provide support for children with autism and other special needs.
Dylan’s parents Ian and Nicole Hockley are involved with the Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit that seeks to teach youth and adults how to prevent school violence and other harmful acts. It also advocates for state and federal policy for gun violence prevention.
Jack Pinto, 6
Jack Pinto, 6, is remembered as a young man who had unbounded joy and energy to participate in team sports.
He played flag football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, and snow skiing.
Jack was a huge New York Giants fan. Giants player Victor Cruz visited the family and wrote Jack’s name on his cleats during a December 2012 game.
Parents Tricia and Dean Pinto partnered with Kids in the Game and helped raise enough money so that more than 400 children across the country will be able to partake in team sports.
Noah Pozner, 6
Noah is remembered as a joyful and loving young boy. He was the youngest victim of the shooting.
“Everything he did conveyed action and energy through love. He was the light of our family, a little soul devoid of spite and meanness,” his family wrote in his obituary.
Noah’s two siblings were in rooms near Noah’s classroom when the shooting happened.
Noah’s father Leonard Pozner founded the HONR Network, which supports victims of mass casualty incidents and targets of online hate speech and harassment. The family has been the target of harassment and death threats.
Chase Kowalski, 7
Chase Kowalski was the third child in his family and will be remembered as an athletic kid who went on to participate in triathlon events at a young age.
He was an avid runner and took part in the Bethel High summer track program where he ran the 50 meter, 100 meter and 400 meter.
His mother wrote that he was thoughtful of others and was determined to get what he wanted.
His parents found him one day flipping through TV channels and he stopped on the History Channel. He also got a kick out of watching his grandfather take a ride in a B-17 bomber and watched a movie about that kind of plane. Chase was also fascinated by the Titanic and his mother planned to take him to an exhibit about the boat in Mystic.
The Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski Sandy Hook Memorial Fund was established to promote family and child-focused initiatives and programs in an effort to heal the community.
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Ana Marquez-Greene will be remembered as a true lover of song and dance.
She liked to dance to any kind of music and her father Jimmy Greene is a renowned jazz saxophonist. He described her as a lover of music and that her mode of transportation was dance. She liked to sing and dance as acts of worships.
The Ana Grace Project is a program of the Klingberg Family Centers non-profit. The center helps children and families who have been affected by trauma.
A toy, clothing and food drive was held in her honor Friday at Central Connecticut State University.
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Catherine Violet Hubbard was a lover of animals, stuffed or real.
Her parents said she had so many stuffed animals on her bed that they would have to sort through them to find her at night. She got a stuffed purple mouse as a 2-month-old after a surgery and her love of animals grew from there.
She would run to the fence at her house to see dogs who were walking by on her street and touch horses in the barn.
The Catherine Violet Hubbard Foundation was founded to help build an animal sanctuary.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Benjamin Wheeler loved lighthouses and said that he wanted to be a lighthouse keeper when he grew-up. He was fond of drawing pictures of lighthouses.
He was described as energetic, quick to laugh and a bit mischievous.
Ben’s Lighthouse was founded to help children reach their potential in a more compassionate and connected world. The organization aims to help Newtown heal.
Emilie Parker, 6
Emilie Parker will be remembered as an art enthusiast who from the time she was 2-years-old was able to write her name and draw family stick figure portraits.
Her house was often covered in a variety of art supplies. Emilie’s parents found her after bedtime with her light on, drawing characters on a paper pad.
The Emilie Parker Art Connection was founded by her parents to honor her love of art by funding programs in the community and schools for the arts.
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Charlotte Bacon’s parents said they would remember her as a kid who ran to the beat of her own drum and was always curious and ready for mischievous antics.
She enjoyed spending time with her family and her yellow Labrador Lily.
Newtown Kindness was created in her name and funds a number of scholarships and the Charlotte Bacon Acts of Kindness Awards. It is now known as the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation.
Jesse Lewis, 6
Jesse Lewis’ parents said he would be remembered as a child full of light and love.
He will also be remembered for bravery far beyond his years. Jesse yelled for his classmates to run during the shooting as the gunman’s weapon jammed. Six of his peers escaped thanks to his leadership.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation works with professional educators to develop school-based education programs to change the culture of violence.
Jesse’s brother JT Lewis met with President Donald Trump and talked about how school safety could be improved. He announced he would run for a seat in the Connecticut State Senate.
Grace McDonnell, 7
Grace McDonnell was a lifelong Sandy Hook resident who loved the beach, painting and spending time with her family, according to her obituary
The Grace McDonnell Memorial Fund was established by her family under Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.
Caroline Previdi, 6
Caroline Previdi’s parents wrote that she was always positive and enthusiastic.
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