SANDY HOOK, Conn. (WTNH) – Ten years ago, the unthinkable happened. A small Connecticut town devastated on Dec. 14, 2012.
Twenty students, six educators. Twenty-six families shattered.
We are remembering the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and highlighting what their families have done for their communities in the wake of their deaths.
Jessica Rekos, 6:
“Jessica was our beautiful little girl who brought so much happiness to our lives. She was an independent, smart, and creative little girl who was always eager to learn new things. She spent hours “researching” Orca whales and just wanted to be “friends with an Orca.” She also spent her time watching movies about horses, and she had fallen in love with the idea of becoming a cowgirl. She took horseback riding lessons every week, and she loved going on trail rides through the woods.
Jessica made us laugh until we cried with her one-liners and funny responses. She as a natural leader, and we called her our little CEO. She was always planning, asking questions, and figuring out the details. Jess adored her little brothers and loved being with them. Weeks before she died, her horseback riding instructor asked Jess who her best friend was and she replied, “My brother, Travis.”
In the wake of Jessica’s death, her family created the Jessica Rekos Foundation. While the foundation is closing, her family asks that anyone who would like to make a donation, donate here.
Olivia Engel, 6:
“Olivia’s zest for life began early. With help from her adoring parents, she quickly developed an affinity for all things fun. On any given afternoon, one could just as easily find Olivia twirling in a pink tutu in dance class, developing her swing on the tennis court, kicking the winning soccer goal, drawing, painting and gluing things in art class, or honing her inner songstress in her community musical theater class. The budding swimmer also loved to join her dad or grandpa on their boats, so she could explore the world from the water.
As Olivia continued to grow, she developed a love and affinity for math and reading, arts and crafts, and her parish. Participating in her church’s CCD program and leading the family’s Grace each evening were sources of great pride for Olivia, as was being a big sister. Ever patient, Olivia took joy in helping her three-year-old brother Brayden explore the world she’d grown to love. This smart, bubbly NY Yankee fan and Daisy Girl Scout would instantly light up a room with her humor, charm, and wit. She was a sweet and appreciative six-year-old with a lot to live for. Her physical loss will deeply be felt every day by those who loved her most, but her sparkly spirit will live on forever.”
In honor of Olivia, her family asks that donations be made to the Newtown Park and Bark.
Avielle Richman, 6:
“Avielle Rose Richman was born in San Diego, California on October 17th, 2006 into a family of story tellers. With a spitfire personality, and a love of laughter, Avielle was rarely without a giant grin, and was often barefoot. Like her parents, she loved stories and demanded them as she was falling asleep, taking a bath, riding in the car, and on every walk she took. She already understood that her life — her growing up — was going to be a series of stories.”
The Avielle Initiative was created in her honor. To learn more, click here.
Jesse Lewis, 6:
“Jesse McCord Lewis was a remarkable child, full of light and love that radiated in his presence. He brought joy to the world with his infectious and ever ready smile and was wise beyond his years. Jesse used his last few minutes on earth yelling to his friends to run, saving many lives. His bravery has inspired many all over the world. His actions were consistent with the way he lived his life; passionately embracing everything, a perfect combination of courage and faith, like a little soldier, his favorite toy. The true love his family shared was abundant and all encompassing.
If you met Jesse once, he would leave an indelible mark on your heart. The picture that remains etched in our souls is one of him in his boots, no socks, ripped jeans and a t-shirt, an army helmet strapped to his head, a smudge of dirt on his cheek, tromping through the pasture on his way from one adventure to another.
Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement™ is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization started by Jesse’s mom, Scarlett Lewis, with a mission to create safer and more loving communities through no cost Character Social Emotional Development programs (CSED) that are suited for all stages of life. Choose Love Movement offers programs tailored for any age from toddlers through adulthood. At the core of it all is a simple formula (COURAGE + GRATITUDE + FORGIVENESS + COMPASSION-IN-ACTION = Choosing Love) that anyone can learn and practice to nourish and strengthen the body, mind, and emotions to cultivate happy, healthy, meaningful lives and to thoughtfully respond to all we meet and improve the world around us.
The Choose Love programs have been accessed in all 50 states and in more than 120 countries, reaching 3 million children.”
To learn more about the Choose Love Movement, click here.
Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7:
“Grace was beautiful, kind and loving. She was full of life, imagination and sparkle. She loved her family, and her big brother Jack was her best friend. They were inseparable, and she took great pride in keeping up with him as they shared adventures big and small.
Grace was an artist. She saw beauty in everything and was fortunate to have found her passion early in life. Grace dreamed of living on Martha’s Vineyard and painting. She took art classes since the age of three and was truly gifted. The Grace McDonnell Art Fund continues to honor her life and dreams by supporting young artists and youth art programs through scholarships and grants.”
To donate to the Grace McDonnell Art Fund, click here.
Noah Pozner, 6:
“Noah was energy in motion. His zest for life was contagious. He was endlessly inquisitive, always wanting to know the why and how of things. He loved intricate, imaginative play with his Legos and superhero figurines. He loved playgrounds and the outdoors. Most of all, he loved his family and shared an unbreakable and unbroken bond with his twin sister, Arielle. He loved a good joke and was an enthusiastic story teller. We miss the music of his full-bellied laughter, the warmth of his hugs and the twinkle in his beautiful eyes with an indescribable, timeless sorrow.”
In honor of Noah, his father Lenny, started the HONR Network, which focuses on protecting people from online abuse.
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6:
“Ana Grace was widely known for her enthusiastic love of God, people, music, food and fun. She instituted the house rule of “seconds”. Her favorite seconds included second breakfast, second dessert and second hugs… And she could out-groove just about anyone. A budding little musician, Ana wanted to be a teacher, dancer or pop star when she grew up.
Sweet Caramel Princess, your family misses you desperately despite the comfort that comes from knowing you are wrapped safely in the arms of Jesus. We grieve your loss every minute of every day, along with the legion of friends and family in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico whose lives you have touched. We will fill our hearts with praise until reunited with you again.
Daddy, Mami and Isaiah”
The Ana Grace Project was born in response to Ana’s death. It’s dedicated to promoting love, community and connection for every child and family through three lead initiatives: partner schools, professional development, and music & arts.
Emilie Parker, 6:
“As Emilie’s parents, we are striving to honor our daughter by continuing to support the things that she loved. Emilie was an exceptional artist, and we enjoyed watching her as she expressed her creativity, love, excitement and her true self through art. We want to celebrate Emilie’s passion by supporting the arts with funding for programs in the community and schools.”
In honor of Emilie, the Emilie Parker Art Connection was started.
Charlotte Bacon, 6:
“To love Charlotte is a blessing. She was unique and left a lasting impression on all. Charlotte was a true free spirit and independent thinker. She made us laugh daily with her crazy antics and cleverness. She was in a perpetual state of movement; running, jumping, skipping, and dancing. Her curiosity often led to mischief and mishaps that still have us in stitches today. Charlotte’s energy and enthusiasm for almost everything was infectious. We hear loving stories from friends and family and the words they use are smart, funny, curious, messy, in-intimidated, and adventurous to describe her. We like to use the word BOLD, and it is this trait that we emulate as we honor Charlotte.
Charlotte had many loves. She loved having her hair tied in “piggies” with ribbons, pink frilly dresses, animals – big and small, her large collection of stuffed dogs, and eating shrimp and Big Y fried chicken. At home, she loved playing and caring for the family pets, “helping” her mom garden by picking flowers before their time, being tickled by her daddy, and trying to imitate and annoy her big brother. Charlotte joyfully loved her family, and our love for Charlotte is eternal.
We strive to honor Charlotte, her beautiful life, and her dreams by establishing and supporting programs and scholarships around the things she loved most.
Her joy will live in our hearts forever.”
In her memory, the Charlotte Bacon Foundation was started and helps support programs for animals.
Catherine Hubbard, 6:
“Six-year-old Catherine was kind. A lover of all animals, she always made it a point to show them extraordinary compassion. Whether she was gently cradling an insect in her palm, or squeezing a furry friend in a full-bodied hug, Catherine wanted them to know that they could trust her and that she would keep them safe from harm. She said that when she grew up, she was going to take care of the animals, even creating her own business cards for “Catherine’s Animal Shelter,” with the self-appointed title of “Care Taker.”
To honor Catherine’s memory and continue her crusade of compassion, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary has been created in Newtown, CT – a place of peace and inspiration where all creatures will know they are safe and cared for people who are kind, just as Catherine would have wanted.”
Following her death, the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary was born and honors the bond between animals, humans and the environment.
Josephine Gay, 7:
“Born in Maryland, Joey was the youngest of three girls in our family. She enjoyed many things in this life, but her favorite was being with her older sisters and playing games with them. She liked to snuggle on the couch and watch movies with us. Her favorites were The Chipmunks, Lemonade Mouth, and all of the Barbie movies. She loved to swim and went to the pool each weekend and throughout the summer. She liked art and playing outside on her playset – and all of our neighbors’. Her favorite books were the Fancy Nancy stories, and she never tired of having them read to her each night at bedtime.
Joey was loved by her family, friends, and teachers. She had a way with people, a way without words. She spoke with her eyes, her gentle hugs, her sweet spirit, and her little hands. She was a happy, affectionate, little girl who overcame many challenges in life. She laughed loudly and gave love freely and genuinely. Her smile lit up a room and captured everyone around her. Joey radiated God’s love and goodness and during our time with her she taught us how to be better people.
We will love her forever and always keep her in our hearts.”
Daniel Barden, 7:
For Daniel, kindness knew no boundaries. Daniel was a child who would hold the door open for strangers, scoop up his tiny ant friends to reunite them with their families, and befriend the classmate who always sat alone. Through his constant show of empathy towards all living things and his effortless joy for life, Daniel taught us so much in his short stay with us. Wherever Daniel was, he served as an inspiration to others – the stories are endless.
Daniel’s father, Mark, is one of the founders of Sandy Hook Promise. Click here to learn more.
James Mattiolo, 6:
“James was six. He was all boy. He wrestled his Dad on the floor, jumped off tall objects, cuddled with his Mom and grew faster than we could believe. ‘J’ loved to be a part of whatever his sister was doing; he learned so much from her and they had an amazing relationship. He loved school, his friends and being outside. James was an avid swimmer and had a keen interest in Math. He had boundless energy, love, happiness and curiosity. James is greatly missed by everyone whose life he touched. We were blessed to have him in our lives.
James R. Mattioli Memorial Fund C/O Newtown Savings Bank; 39 Main Street Newtown, CT 06470
To honor the memory of our son, we will support programs which brought him joy and enriched his life.”
The James Mattiolo 5K was started in his honor. To learn more, click here.
Caroline Previdi, 6:
The Caroline Previdi Foundation was created in memory of Caroline. The foundation supports children who lack the financial resources to be involved in extracurricular activities. To learn more about the foundation, click here.
Allison Wyatt, 6:
“Allison was a kind-hearted little girl who had a lot of love to give, and she formed special bonds with most people who spent any amount of time with her. She loved her family and teachers especially, but would often surprise us with random acts of kindness – once even offering her Goldfish crackers to a complete stranger on a cross-country flight.
Allison loved drawing and wanted to be an artist, often turning parts of our house into an “art studio” with rows of pictures taped to the walls. She often drew pictures for her teachers, her school bus driver, school friends, relatives and anyone else she adored. We found a final picture that Allie had drawn for her first grade teacher, Miss Soto, complete with “I love you, Love Allie”.”
Dylan Hockley, 6:
“We remember his smile. His laugh. His love of bouncing on trampolines and eating chocolate. His beautiful eyes and mischievous grin. His deep empathy in reacting to the feelings of others. His favorite books. The giant purple dots he made almost every day at school. His sensitivity to loud noises and his love of routine. His computer games and his most loved movies. The way he would lie in the warm sand at the beach, or take joy in finding the moon in the sky. How he called lightning “beautiful”, even while he was scared by the thunder. How he would ride a rollercoaster time after time and still not want to get off. The way other children were drawn to him, and how he wanted to play with them so much, even though he didn’t always know how. The way he loved to cuddle, have his back stroked, be tickled, or use other people as pillows when he snuggled against them.”
Dylan’s mother, Nicole, is a founding member of the Sandy Hook Promise. Click here to learn more.
Madeleine Hsu, 6:
“To our beautiful, joyful daughter, a petite princess with a big personality: We remember how life for you was a dance and a race. You loved to run ahead to the next big adventure. Always running…never walking but sometimes dancing, skipping and hopping to whatever you were going to do next. A music lover you loved to sing along with the radio and play the piano. Everything you did, you did with enthusiasm and determination, riding your bike without training wheels the day they were taken off, jumping waves at the beach, swimming at the pool. Once you set your mind to do something it was as good as done. So energetic, you ran, played and strived at 100% from the time you awoke until you fell asleep exhausted at night, only resting quietly to read books about fairies, princesses and Pinkalicious. You were an amazing little girl.”
Chase Kowalski, 7:
“Chase was an amazing son, brother, and grandson whose heart was only filled with love for all the people he touched. He was a fun-loving, energetic boy who had a true love of life. He completed his first triathlon at the age of six and ran in many community road races. Chase had a deep love for the game of baseball and enjoyed practicing with his father and teammates. Joining the Cub Scouts was just one of his many interests. He could often be found in the yard playing ball, riding his bike or quad. Chase’s love will continue to live on and touch many more lives through the work of our foundation in his memory.”
In his honor, the CMAK Foundation was created, which holds the Race 4 Chase annually. The organization focuses on family and children-focused initiatives and programs.
Jack Pinto, 6:
“Jack was a happy, inquisitive and energetic boy. He loved being with his friends, going to school, playing sports and most of all he loved being with his big brother. He was a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend. He was the heart of our family.
We miss his huge smile, his giggles, and the excitement he brought to our life each and every day. We miss the mischievous grin on his face when he was caught eating snacks before dinner and the laughter in his voice while having a football pass in the driveway. We miss him more than words can say.
Jack lived a full and joyful life and his light shines bright in the hearts of those who knew and loved him.
We are celebrating Jack’s life by providing support to organizations that assist children and families. We have made a donation in Jack’s honor to “Every Kid Sports”, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing underprivileged children with the resources they need to play team sports.”
To learn more about Every Kid Sports, click here.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6:
“Ben woke up with a smile on his face and carried it everywhere he went. The constant sparkle in his eye showed his delight with all the world and his slightly mischievous plans for it. And he was figuring it all out. We loved his inquisitive mind and his desire to have every question answered, with the utmost urgency. We loved his thirst for experience and that little bit of shyness that came out from time to time. We still hear the echo of his insistent voice, clamoring for the attention he knew he deserved and the world would give him. We followed every direction he gave as we scratched his back at bedtime, played every Beatles song he requested, and knew that if we skipped a page in that night’s book we would certainly hear about it. His gap-toothed grin and his concern that he hadn’t yet lost a tooth. Benny, we think about you every second of every minute of every hour of every day and now you are our lighthouse. Forever.”
Ben’s Lighthouse was started in his honor due to his love of lighthouses. The organization’s mission is to help kids and teens develop empathy, self-awareness and social connection.
Victoria Soto, 27:
“Vicki was the loving daughter of Donna and Carlos Soto, who at 27 years of age was living her dream teaching first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Vicki lived at home with her sisters Jillian, Carlee and her brother Carlos Mathew along with her favorite dog Roxie. Her family including her cousins were as important to her as her career as a teacher.
Her zest for life was evident to all who knew her, she was serious if she needed to be and silly more often than people would expect. She was beautiful with sparkling blue eyes. Vicki was the perfect daughter, loyal and loving cousin and friend as well as, the best person you would ever meet. Vicki’s mantra was to live each day as it was your last and to always: Live, Laugh, Love
Our family has set up a foundation to provide scholarships to students going into the field of education. We also collect and donate new books to schools in need.”
The Vicki Soto Memorial Fund was started in her honor. To learn more, click here.
Lauren Rousseau, 30:
“Lauren was a sensitive and focused young woman. As a child she played school and always kept her desire to become a professional educator as she grew. She recently worked three jobs to cover her expenses, including the most recent at SHES as a building substitute. She was so happy to finally get a position in educating young children. Memories of her love of family, friends, customers at Starbucks and her cat Layla will always keep her alive. Two scholarships have been set up in her name to help defray expenses for students desiring to become elementary school teachers. The first is The Lauren Rousseau Memorial Scholarship / Danbury High School Scholarship Fund / 43 Clapboard Ridge Rd / Danbury, CT 06811 and the Lauren Rousseau Memorial Scholarship / University of Bridgeport Graduate School of Education / 126 Park Ave / Bridgeport, CT 06604. Contributions to these causes would make Lauren extremely proud.”
Dawn Hochsprung, 47:
“Dawn was strong, confident, inspiring and compassionate. She was always willing to fight for what she believed in and to help in any way she could. She was a dedicated educator who inspired her students to reach their fullest potential by instilling in them the importance of life-long learning. Dawn spent many summers sailing Long Island Sound with her husband George. They also enjoyed kayaking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, or just talking in front of the fire with a glass of wine (and, of course, a box of chocolate). She loved her dog, a black standard poodle named Bella. She carried Bella on her hip like a baby and shared her own meals with Bella (often with her own fork).
Dawn had two daughters at a young age and raised them mostly by herself, but she never wavered in her ambition. She balanced her own education with her responsibilities as a mother. She never missed her daughters’ softball games–she may have been in the bleachers doing homework, but she was always there. Her career advanced and her schedule grew hectic, but she never failed to be there for her daughters. They would often call during her workday and get her voicemail, but always got a text right back that said, “I’m in a meeting. Are you OK?”
Dawn also loved spending time with her grandchildren. She took them on sailing expeditions, trips to the Adirondacks and visits to museums and science centers. Ever the educator, she bought books as their gifts–always inscribed with a special note of how proud she was of them. She went to their sporting events and advocated for them at their schools. She often joked that she was their “mean grandma” because she wasn’t afraid to tell them ‘no.’ She could say this in good spirit because she knew that she was also their favorite grandma.
Dawn died as she lived: always in control, handling whatever came her way. There is nothing that could have stopped her from trying to protect the people she loved.”
In her honor, the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Memorial Foundation was created. Click here to learn more.
Mary Sherlach, 56:
“Mary’s Fund was established in 2013 following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Named after Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist at Sandy Hook, Mary was one of the first educators killed that morning. Established by her family and friends, Mary’s Fund is dedicated to continuing her work of providing mental health services to children and teens.
The mission of Mary’s Fund is to provide access to mental health services for children and teens, throughout Fairfield County, Connecticut, who might otherwise find such services un-accessible. The goal of Mary’s Fund is to continue Mary’s work, in perpetuity, providing the highest quality of care that Mary sought to deliver each day at Sandy Hook.”
Mary’s Fund was created in her honor and supports the mental health of vulnerable youth. Click here to learn more.
Rachel Davino, 29:
“Rachel Marie D’Avino had an unrelenting determination and a clear focus on helping adults and children with Autism. She attended University of Hartford, Post University and University of St. Joseph. On 12/12/12 she had just completed her final requirements to become a Board Certified Behavioral Analyst.
On that night Rachel wrote “It is my dream that you know my name as a leader in Behavioral Analysis for children and adults with Autism; however I will be thrilled if I make a few people have an easier more enjoyable life”. Friends and family members are carrying on “Rachel’s dream”. Team Rachel and “Rachel’s Dream” Team are walking and collecting for Autism Speaks.
At a Celebration of Rachel’s Life at the University of Hartford, Russ Ken, Director of New England Autism Speaks, compared Rachel to “The Giving Tree” a book by Shell Silverstein. He also said that their mission statement could be summed up in three words, “Be Like Rachel”. Rachel’s other passions in life were karate, photography, cooking and baking. She was working with her Nona to create recipes for an Italian family cookbook. Over the years Rachel had quite a menagerie of animals. She was drawn to dogs, bunnies, birds– anything with fur, scales, or feathers.
Rachel was a daughter to Mary (Carmody) D’Avino of Bethlehem and Ralph D’Avino of Waterbury. Rachel was an adoring big sister to Sarah and Hannah. She lived at home with her mom, sisters, and stepdad, Peter Paradis. Rachel’s best friend and soon-to be-fiance Tony Cerritelli were to be engaged on Christmas Eve. He had just asked her parents’ permission to marry her. We all miss her so much and will continue to keep her memory alive.”
To honor Rachel, her family asks for donations to the Autism Speaks walk.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52:
The family of Anne Marie Murphy has asked for their privacy.
The quotes under the victims’ names have been provided by My Sandy Hook Family.