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‘Always smiling’: Portraits of Conn. victims

This phoposted Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker. Fighting back tears struggling catch his breath Robbie Parker father

This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker. Fighting back tears and struggling to catch his breath, Robbie Parker the father of 6-year-old Emile Parker who was gunned down in Friday's school shooting in Connecticut told the world about a little girl who loved to draw and was always smiling, and he also reserved surprising words of sympathy for the gunman. (AP Photo/Emilie Parker Fund)

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Most died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit no matter one’s age. Others found their life’s work in sheltering these 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 children and six adults at the school, the gunman’s mother at home, and the gunman himself.

A glimpse of some of those who died:

Victoria Soto, 27, teacher

She beams in snapshots. Her enthusiasm and cheer was evident. She was doing, those who knew her say, what she loved.

And now, Victoria Soto is being called a hero.

Though details of the 27-year-old teacher’s death remained fuzzy, her name has been invoked again and again as a portrait of selflessness and humanity among unfathomable evil.

Investigators informed relatives that she was killed while shielding her first-graders from danger. She reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet, ensuring they were safe, a cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News.

“She was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm,” Wiltsie told ABC. “And by doing that, put herself between the gunman and the children.”

Photos of Soto show her always with a wide smile, in pictures of her at her college graduation and in mundane daily life. She looks so young, barely an adult herself. Her goal was simply to be a teacher.

“She lost her life doing what she loved,” Wiltsie said.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student

A year ago, 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene was reveling in holiday celebrations with her extended family on her first trip to Puerto Rico. This year will be heartbreakingly different.

The girl’s grandmother, Elba Marquez, said the child’s family moved to Connecticut just two months ago, drawn from Canada, in part, by Sandy Hook’s pristine reputation. The grandmother’s brother, Jorge Marquez, is mayor of a Puerto Rican town and said the child’s 9-year-old brother was also at the school, but escaped safely.

Elba Marquez had just visited the new home over Thanksgiving and finds herself perplexed by what happened.

“It was a beautiful place, just beautiful,” she said. “What happened does not match up with the place where they live.”

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal

Dawn Hochsprung’s pride in Sandy Hook Elementary was clear. She regularly tweeted photos from her time as principal there, giving indelible glimpses of life at a place now known for tragedy. Just this week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert, days before that the tiny hands of kindergartners exchanging play money at their makeshift grocery store.

She viewed her school as a model, telling The Newtown Bee in 2010 that “I don’t think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day.” She had worked to make Sandy Hook a place of safety, too, and in October, 47-year-old Hochsprung shared a picture of the school’s evacuation drill with the message “Safety first.” When the unthinkable came, she was ready to defend.

Officials said she died while lunging at the gunman in an attempt to overtake him.

“She had an extremely likable style about her,” said Gerald Stomski, first selectman of Woodbury, where Hochsprung lived and had taught. “She was an extremely charismatic principal while she was here.”

Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist

When the shots rang out, Mary Sherlach threw herself into the danger.

Janet Robinson, the superintendent of Newtown Public Schools, said Sherlach and the school’s principal ran toward the shooter. They lost their own lives, rushing toward him.

Even as Sherlach neared retirement, her job at Sandy Hook was one she loved. Those who knew her called her a wonderful neighbor, a beautiful person, a dedicated educator.

Her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, told the South Jersey Times that Sherlach rooted on the Miami Dolphins, enjoyed visiting the Finger Lakes, relished helping children overcome their problems. She had planned to leave work early on Friday, he said, but never had the chance. In a news conference Saturday, he told reporters the loss was devastating, but that Sherlach was doing what she loved.

“Mary felt like she was doing God’s work,” he said, “working with the children.”

Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, 30, teacher

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 paper.

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, 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.”

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher

A happy soul. A good mother, wife and daughter. Artistic, fun-loving, witty and hardworking.

Remembering their daughter, Anne Marie Murphy, her parents had no shortage of adjectives to offer Newsday. When news of the shooting broke, Hugh and Alice McGowan waited for word of their daughter as hour by hour ticked by. And then it came.

Authorities told the couple their daughter was a hero who helped shield some of her students from the rain of bullets. As the grim news arrived, the victim’s mother reached for her rosary.

“You don’t expect your daughter to be murdered,” her father told the newspaper. “It happens on TV. It happens elsewhere.”

Chase Kowalski, 7, student

Chase Kowalski was always outside, playing in the backyard, riding his bicycle. Just last week, he was visiting neighbor Kevin Grimes, telling him about completing — and winning — his first mini-triathlon.

“You couldn’t think of a better child,” Grimes said.

Grimes’ own five children all attended Sandy Hook, too. Cars lined up outside the Kowalski’s ranch home Saturday, and a state trooper’s car idled in the driveway. Grimes spoke of the boy only in the present tense.

Emilie Parker, 6, student

Quick to cheer up those in need of a smile, Emilie Parker never missed a chance to draw a picture or make a card.

Her father, Robbie Parker, fought back tears as he described the beautiful, blonde, always-smiling girl who loved to try new things, except food.

Parker, one of the first parents to publicly talk about his loss, expressed no animosity for the gunman, even as he struggled to explain the death to his other two children, ages 3 and 4. He’s sustained by the fact that the world is better for having had Emilie in it.

“I’m so blessed to be her dad,” he said.

Nancy Lanza, 52, gunman’s mother

She was known before simply for the game nights she hosted and the holiday decorations she put up at her house. Now Nancy Lanza is being called the mother of a killer and his first victim.

Authorities say Lanza’s 20-year-old son Adam gunned his mother down before killing 26 others at Sandy Hook. The two shared a home in a well-to-do Newtown neighborhood, but details were slow to emerge of who she was and what might have led her son to carry out such horror.

Court records show she and her ex-husband, Peter Lanza, filed for divorce in 2008. He lives in Stamford and is a tax director at General Electric. It wasn’t clear whether Nancy Lanza had worked. A neighbor, Rhonda Cullens, said she knew Nancy Lanza from get-togethers she had hosted to play Bunco, a dice game. She said her neighbor had enjoyed gardening.

“She was a very nice lady,” Cullens said. “She was just like all the rest of us in the neighborhood, just a regular person.”

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Associated Press

Writers Mark Scolforo, Allen Breed and Danica Coto contributed to this report.



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