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School shooting victims: The hopes and dreams behind the names

Friends and families of some Connecticut school shooting victims start to put faces on a national tragedy.

December 15, 2012|By Laura J. Nelson, Andrew Khouri and Marisa Gerber, Los Angeles Times
  • Emilie Parker, 6, one of 20 children killed in the school shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., was described by her tearful father as "bright, creative and very loving."
Emilie Parker, 6, one of 20 children killed in the school shooting rampage… (Emilie Parker Fund )

NEWTOWN, Conn. — It's not the way Emilie Parker died that will matter. It's the way she lived. Emilie was only 61/2, but to hear her father tell it, the little blond girl with the cornflower blue eyes was an extraordinary force in the lives of her loved ones.

"Emilie was bright, creative and very loving," said Robbie Parker, 30, a physician assistant who moved his family from Utah to Connecticut eight months ago. An "exceptional artist" who always carried markers and pencils with her, Emilie never missed the chance to make a drawing or a card for those around her.

"I can't count the number of times Emilie found someone feeling sad or frustrated and rushed to grab a piece of paper to draw them a picture or write them a note," her father said Saturday.

In October, Emilie put one of her handmade cards into the casket of her grandfather, who had also died unexpectedly, Parker said, in "a tragic accident."

With his simple description of a joyful child, Parker put a face on a national tragedy.

He expressed compassion not just for the victims and their families, but also for the family of the man who killed his child, and he urged that the massacre "not be something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better."

About two hours after Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II revealed details about Friday's carnage, including the fact that each of the 26 victims was shot multiple times, Emilie's father spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes.

"Emilie was a mentor to her two little sisters and delighted in teaching them to read, dance and find the simple joys in life," Parker said, at times choking up or growing teary.

"Her laughter was infectious. All those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world has been a better place because she has been in it."

Their last conversation, on Friday morning, took place in Portuguese, a language he was teaching her. "She told me 'Good morning' and asked how I was doing. I said that I was doing well. She said that she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door."

Sixteen of the children who died Friday were, like Emilie, only 6 years old. Four were 7. The six adults who died — all women — were the school's principal, its psychologist and four teachers.

The pain was so fresh for the victims' families that most did not want to talk publicly. Through officials, they asked that their privacy be respected. Some acknowledged their losses in emailed comments or on social network sites.

Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard, parents of Catherine Violet Hubbard, a 6-year old with flame-red hair, emailed her photo and a statement of appreciation for the "overwhelming support" from their community and thanked authorities for their "outstanding work." The Hubbards asked for prayers and for privacy, "that we be afforded the opportunity to grieve with our friends and family."

Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, the father of 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene, who had moved his family from Manitoba to Newtown last summer, posted a note on Facebook. The family was among many who had more than one child enrolled at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ana's brother, Isaiah, a third-grader, made it out safely.

"As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise," Jimmy Greene wrote. "I love you sweetie girl."

The sister of teacher Victoria Soto, 27, tweeted about her devastation on Friday. "My sister died protecting her students," Carlee Soto wrote. "God, why do you take her?"

On her teacher Web page, Soto, pictured with her black lab, Roxie, said she was working toward a master's degree in special education at Southern Connecticut State University.

"This is my third year as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook School! I absolutely love teaching first grade!" she wrote. "… I love to spend time reading books on the beach soaking up the sun. I also love flamingos and the New York Yankees. I look forward to an amazing year in first grade with my amazing students of room 10!"

In an interview with CNN, Soto's cousin, Jim Wiltsie, said she died a hero. "She gathered herself and her children into a closet and put herself in harm's way between the gunman and the kids," he said. "She was doing what was right in her heart."

Like many of her small charges, Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, had energy to spare. Running a K-through-4 school might have been a big enough challenge for any administrator, but Hochsprung also had been pursuing an education doctorate at the Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges, a 21/2-hour drive from her home. She had 14 classmates, and the group was close.

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