On this Christmas Eve, we remember the 26 lives lost less than two weeks ago in Newtown, CT. 26 families are spending their first Christmas without their loved ones. 20 kids aren’t getting to graduate from high school and college, 20 kids aren’t getting to fall in love for the first time, 20 kids aren’t getting to live full-fledged lives. To all of my family and friends, don’t forget to tell those you love and hold dear to your heart that you love them, that you appreciate them, that they mean so much to you. Let’s try our hardest to prevent as many of these tragedies from occurring again. In all honesty, we can’t stop all of them from happening, but it shouldn’t keep us from trying to prevent some of them from occurring. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the 26 victims lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I pray that God allows them and the rest of the world to garner some sort of understanding on why such a tragedy occurred. I pray that God comforts our country and this nation and helps us understand. RIP Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims!
Sandy Hook School Shooting: Remembering The Victims (Part III)
Avielle Richman, Age 6
Avielle was happiest when she was on a horse.
Her trainer, Annette Sullivan, told the Connecticut Post that Avielle would “giggle when she trotted.”
Like kids her age, her first wobbly tooth was a sign she was growing up.
“She showed me her wiggly tooth, she was so excited,” Sullivan told the newspaper. “She was the most delightful little girl you ever met in your life.”
Lauren Rousseau (Sandy Hook Elementary School Substitute Teacher), Age 30
Last September, Lauren Rousseau’s phone rang with a hard-won opportunity: a teaching position at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The job, as a full-time substitute, offered little in the way of security or stability. It meant accepting a different classroom assignment on a daily basis without benefits or the promise of a permanent position. The pay was a meager $75 a day.
Ms. Rousseau, 30 years old, was thrilled.
“Oh she called so excited, she was just on cloud nine,” recalled her father, Gilles Rousseau, a photographer from Southbury, Conn. “She had such big plans. She would just go on and on about the kids.”
Ms. Rousseau’s mother said the oldest of her three children decided early to be a teacher. She still has an old photo of a very young Lauren standing at a chalkboard, her toys at her feet.
“She used to talk to her dolls like she was their teacher,” said Terri Rousseau, a journalist who lives in Danbury, Conn.
After graduating with a degree in education from the University of Connecticut in 2004, Ms. Rousseau got her masters degree from the University of Bridgeport in 2006 with the goal of becoming an elementary-school teacher. But teacher layoffs in the area in recent years made even substitute jobs scarce.
She had a lucky link to Sandy Hook. Dawn Hochsprung, the school principal who died trying to stop the gunman, was a family friend. Ms. Hochsprung’s husband, George, had once been Ms. Rousseau’s grade-school teacher.
Ms. Rousseau had already moved back into her childhood home where her divorced mother still lived. To make the teaching job work, she put in after-school hours behind the counter of a busy Starbucks just off the interstate at the Connecticut-New York border, a demanding second job that supplied health insurance. She often drove directly to the coffee shop from school, changing clothes in her Honda Civic to save time.
Several chances for non-substitute teaching job looked promising but eventually fell apart, and her father said that she had struggled to pay her bills.
In her free time, Ms. Rousseau kept up with friends online and played with her cat, Laila, a regular feature in family photos and on her Christmas cards. A favorite getaway was a train trip to a Broadway show in Manhattan, preferably midweek for discounted tickets.
Last year, things started looking up. An Internet date blossomed into a full-fledged romance. She went to parties and Yankees games with her boyfriend, Tony. There was talk of marriage, her mother said.
“I’ll take some comfort that the last year of her life was her happiest,” the elder Ms. Rousseau said on Saturday.
On Friday night, she said her daughter had planned to see the new film “The Hobbit” and had baked Hobbit-themed cupcakes for a friend’s birthday.
The family’s initial optimism early in the day that Ms. Rousseau had survived the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School turned to dread as night fell without word from her. Calls and text messages to her cellphone went unanswered, and at 1 a.m. Saturday a Connecticut state trooper knocked on her father’s door. The officer was flanked by a minister and counselors.
The officials offered no details as to how or where Ms. Rousseau died, saying only that she had been identified among the six adults and 20 children who had died at the school.
Mary Sherlach (Sandy Hook Elementary School Psychologist), Age 56
In October, Superstorm Sandy was bearing down on Trumbull, Conn., but Mary Sherlach and her husband rushed across the street to their neighbors’ house after seeing a downed tree.
She just wanted to make sure everyone was OK, said the neighbor, Kathy Lucas, 52.
Ms. Sherlach followed that instinct Friday at Sandy Hook elementary school, where she worked as the school psychologist, witnesses said. When she heard shots fired, Ms. Sherlach and school principal Dawn Hochsprung quickly left a meeting and headed toward the danger, a witness said.
She was one of 26 people who were killed at the school, not including the alleged gunman, who authorities said took his own life.
John Lucas, 51, said Ms. Sherlach would often sit on her front porch on a white, wicker loveseat. The neighbors said she had two adult daughters, and cared deeply about her family.
“A wonderful couple, just devoted to each other,” Ms. Lucas said.
Victoria Soto (Sandy Hook Elementary School First-Grade Teacher), Age 27
When her students were in danger, her instincts kicked in.
First-grade teacher Vicki Leigh Soto, 27 years old, died trying to protect the children she loved, her cousin Jim Wiltsie said. When the gunfire started on Friday morning, she gathered her students and tried to hide them in a classroom closet, officials told her family.
“In doing so, she put herself between the kids and the gunman’s bullets,” said Mr. Wiltsie, who is a police officer. “That is how she was found. Huddled with her children.” He said he didn’t know if her students were among the dead.
Ms. Soto, who had just turned 27 last month, grew up in Stratford, Conn. She was the oldest of four children in a big, extended family that included many public workers and first responders. Her cousin said that she loved going to the beach and was active in her church.
“Vicki was a great individual with a huge heart and put students first. Unfortunately, that is how she lost her life,” Mr. Wiltsie said. “I wanted people to know that she was a hero for what she did, and that she gets the recognition that she deserves.”
Her life was filled with family and children. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a teacher. She had worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School for five years—three as a first-grade teacher and two as an intern—and was pursuing her master’s degree in special education at Southern Connecticut State University, according to her biography on the school’s website. She wrote that she graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University with a degree in elementary education and history.
“She was a very nurturing individual—big sister was her role,” Mr. Wiltsie said. “Instinctively as a teacher, all she wanted to do was protect those kids, and that is what she was trying to do.”
On her teacher page, she said she enjoyed reading, owned a black lab named Roxie and loved spending time with her brother, two sisters and cousins. She also wrote that she loved flamingos and the New York Yankees.
“I look forward to an amazing year in first grade with my amazing students of room 10!” Ms. Soto wrote on her teacher page.
Benjamin Wheeler, Age 6
Ben loved The Beatles, lighthouses and the No. 7 train to Sunnyside, Queens, his family said in a statement. He and his older brother Nate “filled the house with the noise of four children.”
“Ben Wheeler was an irrepressibly bright and spirited boy whose love of fun and excitement at the wonders of life and the world could rarely be contained. His rush to experience life was headlong, creative and immediate,” his family said. Ben loved soccer and swimming. Recently, he performed at a piano recital – a major feat for a little boy who rarely sat still. Friday morning before school, he told him mom: “I still want to be an architect, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that’s what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does.”
The family moved to Newtown in 2007. Francine Wheeler, Ben’s mother, is a music teacher and performer. Francine Wheeler’s band posted the following message on its Facebook page: “Francine Wheeler, a founding member of The Dream Jam Band, has lost her precious 6-year old son, Ben, to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Our prayers and love go out to Francine, David and Ben’s big brother, Nate.”