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posted: 12/16/2012 9:17 PM

Remembering the victims

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  • Noah Pozner

      Noah Pozner

  • Jessica Rekos

      Jessica Rekos

  • Lauren Rousseau

      Lauren Rousseau

 
Associated Press

Editor's note: The Daily Herald will run short biographies of the Connecticut school shooting victims as they become available.

Most died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit for anyone regardless of age. Others found their life's work in sheltering little ones, teaching them, caring for them, treating them as their own. After the gunfire ended Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the trail of loss was more than many could bear: 20 students and six adults at the school, the gunman's mother at home, and the gunman himself.

A glimpse of some of those who died:

Daniel Barden, 7

Daniel's family says he was "fearless in the pursuit of happiness in life."

He was the youngest of three children and in a statement to the media, his family said Daniel earned his missing two front teeth and ripped jeans.

"Words really cannot express what a special boy Daniel was. Such a light. Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair and so thoughtful towards others, imaginative in play, both intelligent and articulate in conversation: in all, a constant source of laughter and joy," the family said.

His father, Mark is a local musician.  The New Haven Register reported that Mark was scheduled to play a show at a restaurant in Danbury on Friday, a show that was later cancelled.

On the biography on his professional website, Mark Barden lists spending time with his family as his favorite thing to do.

Rachel D'Avino, 29

Days before the Connecticut shooting rampage, the boyfriend of Rachel D'Avino had asked her parents for permission to marry her.

D'Avino was a behavioral therapist who had only recently started working at the school where she was killed, according to Lissa Lovetere, a friend who is handling her funeral planned for Friday. D'Avino's boyfriend, Anthony Cerritelli, planned to ask her to marry him on Christmas Eve, Lovetere said.

Lovetere said she met D'Avino in 2005 when D'Avino was assigned to her son, who has autism, in their town of Bethlehem. D'Avino, 29, was so dedicated she'd make home visits and constantly offered guidance on handling situations such as helping her son deal with loud music at a wedding.

"Her job didn't end when the school bell rang at 3 o'clock," Lovetere said.

Police told her family that she shielded one of the students during the rampage, Lovetere said.

"I'm heartbroken. I'm numb," Lovetere said. "I think she taught me more about how to be a good mother to a special needs child than anyone else ever had."

Grace Audry McDowell, 7

With broken hearts, the parents of Grace Audrey McDonnell said Sunday they couldn't believe the outpouring of support they've received since the little girl who was the center of their lives died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Lynn and Chris McDonnell called their 7-year-old daughter "the love and light" of their family in a statement released by the little girl's uncle.

The family also shared a photo featuring Grace smiling into the camera, her eyes shining and a pink bow adorning her long blonde hair.

"Words cannot adequately express our sense of loss," the McDonnells said.

Jack Pinot, 6

Jack Pinto was a huge New York Giants fan.

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz said he talked to Pinto's family, which is considering burying the 6-year-old boy in Cruz's No. 80 jersey.

Cruz honored Jack Sunday on his cleats, writing on them the words "Jack Pinto, My Hero" and "R.I.P. Jack Pinto."

"I also spoke to an older brother and he was distraught as well. I told him to stay strong and I was going to do whatever I can to honor him," Cruz said after the Giant's game with the Atlanta Falcons. "He was fighting tears and could barely speak to me."

Cruz said he plans to give the gloves he wore during the game to the boy's family, and spend some time with them.

"There's no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on," he said. "I can't even explain it."

Jack's funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday at the Honan Funeral Home in Newtown, followed by burial at the Newtown Village Cemetery.

Jessica Rekos, 6

"Jessica loved everything about horses," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos said in a statement. "She devoted her free time to watching horse movies, reading horse books, drawing horses, and writing stories about horses."

When she turned 10, they promised, she could have a horse of her own. For Christmas, she asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

The Rekoses described their daughter as "a creative, beautiful little girl who loved playing with her little brothers, Travis and Shane.

"She spent time writing in her journals, making up stories, and doing `research' on orca whales -- one of her passions after seeing the movie `Free Willy' last year." Her dream of seeing a real orca was realized in October when she went to SeaWorld.

Jessica, first born in the family, "was our rock," the parents said. "She had an answer for everything, she didn't miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time." A thoughtful planner, she was "our little CEO."

"We cannot imagine our life without her. We are mourning her loss, sharing our beautiful memories we have of her, and trying to help her brother Travis understand why he can't play with his best friend," they said.

"We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are."

Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, 30

Lauren Rousseau had spent years working as a substitute teacher and doing other jobs. So she was thrilled when she finally realized her goal this fall to become a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook.

Her mother, Teresa Rousseau, a copy editor at the Danbury News-Times, released a statement Saturday that said state police told them just after midnight that she was among the victims.

"Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten," she said. "We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream."

Her mother said she was thrilled to get the job.

"It was the best year of her life," she told the newspaper.

Rousseau has been called gentle, spirited and active. She had planned to see "The Hobbit" with her boyfriend Friday and had baked cupcakes for a party they were to attend afterward. She was born in Danbury, and attended Danbury High, college at the University of Connecticut and graduate school at the University of Bridgeport.

She was a lover of music, dance and theater.

"I'm used to having people die who are older," her mother said, "not the person whose room is up over the kitchen."

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Music surrounded Benjamin Wheeler as he grew up in a household where both his mother and father were performers.

They left behind stage careers in New York City when they moved to Newtown with Benjamin and his older brother Nate.

"We knew we wanted a piece of lawn, somewhere quiet, somewhere with good schools," Francine Wheeler told the Newtown Bee in a profile.

She is a music educator and singer-songwriter. Sometimes the musical mother would try out tunes on her own children, with some tunes that she made up for Ben as a baby eventually finding their way onto a CD, she told the newspaper.

In writing songs for children, melodies needn't be simplified, she said. "I try to make it my mission to always present good music to kids."

Benjamin's father, David, a former film and television actor, writes and performs still, according to a profile on the website of the Flagpole Radio Cafe theater, with which he's performed in Newtown.

The family are members of Trinity Episcopal Church, whose website noted that Nate, also a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was not harmed in Friday's shooting.

Charlotte Bacon, 6

They were supposed to be for the holidays, but finally on Friday, after hearing much begging, Charlotte Bacon's mother relented and let her wear the new pink dress and boots to school.It was the last outfit the outgoing redhead would ever pick out. Charlotte's older brother, Guy, was also in the school but was not shot.

Her parents, JoAnn and Joel, had lived in Newtown for four or five years, JoAnn's brother John Hagen, of Nisswa, Minn., told Newsday.

"She was going to go some places in this world," Hagen told the newspaper. "This little girl could light up the room for anyone."

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Dr. Matthew Velsmid was at Madeleine's house on Saturday, tending to her stricken family. He said the family did not want to comment.

Velsmid said that after hearing of the shooting, he went to the triage area to provide medical assistance but there were no injuries to treat.

"We were waiting for casualties to come out, and there was nothing. There was no need, unfortunately," he said. "This is the darkest thing I've ever walked into, by far."

Velsmid's daughter, who attends another school, lost three of her friends.

Catherine Hubbard, 6

A family friend turned reporters away from the house, but Catherine's parents released a statement expressing gratitude to emergency responders and for the support of the community.

"We are greatly saddened by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Catherine Violet and our thoughts and prayers are with the other families who have been affected by this tragedy," Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard said. "We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy."

Jesse Lewis, 6

Six-year-old Jesse Lewis had hot chocolate with his favorite breakfast sandwich -- sausage, egg and cheese -- at the neighborhood deli before going to school Friday morning.

Jesse and his parents were regulars at the Misty Vale Deli in Sandy Hook, Conn., owner Angel Salazar told The Wall Street Journal.

"He was always friendly; he always liked to talk," Salazar said.

Jesse's family has a collection of animals he enjoyed playing with, and he was learning to ride horseback.

Family friend Barbara McSperrin told the Journal that Jesse was "a typical 6-year-old little boy, full of life."

James Mattioli, 6

The upstate New York town of Sherrill is thinking of Cindy Mattioli, who grew up there and lost her son James in the school shooting in Connecticut.

"It's a terrible tragedy, and we're a tight community," Mayor William Vineall told the Utica Observer-Dispatch. "Everybody will be there for them, and our thoughts and prayers are there for them."

James' grandparents, Jack and Kathy Radley, still live in the city, the newspaper reported.

Noah Pozner, 6

Noah was "smart as a whip," gentle but with a rambunctious streak, said his uncle, Alexis Haller of Woodinville, Wash. Noah's twin sister Arielle, assigned to a different classroom, survived the shooting. He called her his best friend, and with their 8-year-old sister, Sophia, they were inseparable.

"They were always playing together, they loved to do things together," Haller said. When his mother, a nurse, would tell him she loved him, he would answer, "Not as much as I love you, Mom."

Haller said Noah loved to read and liked to figure out how things worked mechanically. For his birthday two weeks ago, he got a new Wii.

"He was just a really lively, smart kid," Haller said. "He would have become a great man, I think. He would have grown up to be a great dad."

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