Discuss as:

Victims in Connecticut shooting: Daring principal, fun-loving teacher, 6-year-old twin brother

Burials have begun for the children and teachers who died after the unthinkable happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School. NBC's Kate Snow reports.

Updated at 6 p.m. ET Tuesday: The youngest victim had a twin at the school. The oldest was the school psychologist. Another was the child of a jazz saxophonist. Among the 28 who died in the shooting in Newtown, Conn., were six teachers -- all women -- and 20 children, ages 6 and 7.

The two others who died were the gunman and his mother.   

Of the children, eight were boys and 12 were girls.


Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Sandy Hook Elementary principal
When shots rang out Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Hochsprung ran from a room where she was meeting with a parent and other staff members, school occupational therapist Diane Day told the Wall Street Journal.

She never returned.

Hochsprung, 47, has been described as fun and lighthearted, someone who maintained an active Twitter feed that noted successes and various events at school.

“Sandy Hook hosted district admins for instructional rounds today,” she tweeted on Nov. 29. “Amazing visit showcased deep learning!” 

Last week, she tweeted an image of fourth-grade students rehearsing for their winter concert. Days before that, an image of kindergartners exchanging play money at their makeshift grocery store.

“She was not the kind of principal I remembered as a kid,” Diane Licata, the mother of a first- and second-grader at Sandy Hook, told The New York Times. “She really reached out to the students and made them feel comfortable with her.”

She received her bachelor's degree in special education from Central Connecticut State University and her master's degree in education from Southern Connecticut State University. She was currently enrolled at Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y., pursuing her Ph.D.

Hoschsprung was married with a high-school age son, according to the Wall Street Journal.

She viewed her school as a model for safety and learning, telling The Newtown Bee in 2010: “I don’t think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day.”

Officials said she died while lunging along with the school psychologist at the gunman in an attempt to overpower him, The Associated Press reported.

Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung died in the attack after reportedly running toward the gunfire to protect her students. TODAY's Erica Hill reports, and Savannah Guthrie talks with two men who knew her.

Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist
Mary Sherlach had worked at Sandy Hook Elementary since 1994 and was known as a fixture at the school, according to the Connecticut Post.

Associated Press

Mary Sherlach, 56

She was the wife of Bill Sherlach, a financial consultant, and mother to two adult daughters, Maura and Katie. The Sherlaches were looking forward to retirement, which they had planned to spend on Owasco Lake, one of New York's Finger Lakes, Newtown Patch reported.

Eric Schwartz, Sherlach’s son-in-law, told the Connecticut Post that he and his wife immediately drove to Connecticut when they heard on the news that the school psychologist had been killed. 

Officials said Sherlach died while running with the principal toward the shooter. 

Schwartz described his mother-in-law as sharp, opinionated and an avid Miami Dolphins fan. She had planned to leave work early on Friday, he said, but never had the chance. 

As the news trickled out about the shooting, Schwartz told Patch: “It was a really helpless feeling. For about an hour, you try to say, ‘They got it wrong, they got it wrong.’”

"Mary felt like she was doing God's work, working with the children," he told NBCConnecticut.com.

Victoria Soto, 27, first-grade teacher
As the shooter entered Room 10, a first-grade classroom, teacher Vicki Leigh Soto tried to shield her students, her cousin Jim Wiltsie told the Wall Street Journal.

Victoria Soto, 27.

"That is how she was found. Huddled with her children," Wiltsie said.

Soto had taught for five years and was known by students as silly and loving. “She put those children first. That’s all she ever talked about,” a friend, Andrea Crowell, told The Associated Press. “She wanted to do her best for them, to teach them something new every day.” 

Read more at NBC Latino 

On her teacher's bio, Soto wrote: "In my free time I love to spend time with black lab Roxie. I love spending time with my brother, sisters and cousins. I love to spend time reading books on the beach soaking up the sun.  I also love flamingos and the New York Yankees."  

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, special education teacher
Murphy, the sixth of seven children, was described by her 86-year-old father, Hugh McGowan, as “witty” and “hardworking,” according to New York Newsday.

Her mother, Alice McGowan, 86, described her as “a good soul.” She told Newsday that when she got the news, she grabbed her rosary and cried.

Authorities told the couple their daughter helped shield some of her students from the rain of bullets. 

“A first responder said she was a hero,” Murphy's father said. 

"You don't expect your daughter to be murdered. That's sort of a shocker. It happens on TV. It happens elsewhere," he added.

Woody Thompson, a neighbor of the Murphy family in Connecticut, said she and her husband were level-headed parents who allowed their four children to play one sport per season.

“They didn’t buy into some of the craziness and the hype of big-time organized youth sports,” Thompson told NBC News.  

Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, 30, permanent substitute teacher
Rousseau was having "the best year of her life," her mother, Teresa Rousseau said, according to The Danbury News-Times, where she is a copyeditor.


Lauren Rousseau

Lauren had a boyfriend, Tony Lusardi III, the News-Times reported. After years of substitute teaching, she landed a permanent substitute teaching position at Sandy Hook. 

She grew up in Danbury and lived with her mother and her mother’s partner.

On Friday night, Rousseau had planned to see a movie, "The Hobbit," according to the News-Times. In preparation, she had made cupcakes with pictures of the actors in the movie topping each one. 

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

Nancy Lanza, 52, mother of gunman
Investigators believe that Adam Lanza shot his mother at her home near Sandy Hook Elementary before driving to the school and killing 26 others, then himself.

Nancy Lanza was social and generous, friends and neighbors told The New York Times. A friend told NBC News that she was a gun enthusiast.

“She had a pretty extensive gun collection,” Dan Holmes said. “She was a collector, she was pretty proud of that. She always mentioned that she really loved the act of shooting.”

He said that she took her sons to the shooting range to practice their marksmanship.

In 2008, her husband Peter John Lanza filed for divorce, court records show. He lives in Stamford, Conn., and is a tax director at General Electric. 

While much remains unknown about the Sandy Hook school shooting, we're learning more about one of the victims – gunman Adam Lanza's mother, who owned all of the weapons recovered at the scene. NBC's Mike Isikoff reports, and four of her friends join TODAY's Savannah Guthrie to talk about her life and her relationship with her son.

Rachel D'Avino was 29.

Rachel was born in Waterbury, Conn., to parents Mary D’Avinio of Bethlehem, Conn., and Ralph D’Avino of Waterbury, Conn. She was a 2001 graduate of Nonnewaug High School and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hartford and her master’s degree from Post University. She was working toward her doctorate degree from the University of St. Joseph in Hartford, Conn.

A behavioral therapist who worked with special-needs kids, Rachel was one of two teacher’s aides who died at Sandy Hook. She joined the staff at Sandy Hook only about a week before the shooting, the Stamford Advocate reported.

She loved animals, cooking, baking, photography and karate, her family said, adding that she was an adoring big sister who cherished her two younger siblings like they were her own children.

“Her presence and tremendous smile brightened any room she entered,” Rachel’s obituary said. “Her maternal nature, understanding and sense of patience with the learning disabled were truly gifts she possessed. Ultimately, it is these gifts that would have given Rachel a level of understanding and forgiveness during this time of crisis that many others wouldn’t have.”

Rachel’s aunt, Christine Carmody, who lives in Florida, said that D’Avino’s boyfriend had asked her parents for her hand in marriage and planned to propose on Christmas Eve this year, Carmody told her pastor before flying to Connecticut, MyFoxTampaBay.com reported


Charlotte Bacon was 6.

Charlotte, who had long curly red hair, had begged her mother for a new outfit, her uncle told  Newsday. Her mother relented on Friday and allowed her to wear the outfit: a pink dress and boots.

Charlotte Bacon, 6.

Charlotte’s older brother, Guy, was also in the school but was not shot, The Associated Press reported. Her parents, JoAnn and Joel, had lived in Newtown for four or five years, her uncle, John Hagen, of Nisswa, Minn., told Newsday.

Charlotte’s family issued a statement: “The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life and the unique way she expressed her individuality, usually with the color pink.”  

Having never met an animal she didn’t love, her parents said, Charlotte had wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 2.

The statement continued: “She also enjoyed practicing Taekwondo weekly with her Dad and brother where she relished kicking and throwing punches!” 

Daniel Barden was 7. 

He was the youngest son of a caring mother and father, who always tried to keep their children active, taking Daniel to swim practice and other activities, according to friends and neighbors, the Washington Post reported.

In his obituary, his family said Daniel loved “riding waves at the beach, playing the drums in a band with his brother, James, and sister, Natalie, foosball, reading, and making s’mores around the bonfire with his cousins at Papa’s house.”

Daniel earned his missing two front teeth and ripped jeans, the family said in a statement.

He was on the Newtown soccer team and the Newtown Torpedoes swim team.

“This is a warm, loving family,” said a co-worker of Daniel’s mother, Jackie Barden. “The kids were the type of kids parents want their children to be around: warm and wonderful and caring and kind. This is heartbreaking.” 

Olivia Engel was 6.

Tim Nosezo / AP

Olivia Engel, 6.

Olivia was outgoing and had “a great sense of humor,” said her cousin, John Engel III of New Canaan. The sister of 3-year-old brother Brayden, Olivia was a Girl Scout, a tennis player and excelled at math and reading.

"She had a huge sense of humor, this was not a shy child," Engel said on TODAY. "This was a child who would light up the room with her smile and her sense of humor." 

On Friday, Olivia was excited to go to school and then return home to make a gingerbread house, a friend of the girl’s family, Dan Merton, told the Associated Press. “Her only crime is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old,” he said.

Olivia, who was learning the rosary, always led grace before the family dinner.

"She was supposed to be an angel" in the nativity play Saturday night at Newtown's St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, said Msgr. Robert Weiss, according to Reuters. "Now she's an angel up in heaven."

Josephine Gay was 7.

Josephine -- known as Joey -- turned 7 three days before Friday's shooting. She wore round glasses and loved the color purple, which her parents asked that those attending her funeral to wear at her funeral on Friday, Dec. 21. During the summer, she set up a lemonade stand in her family’s subdivision, where she liked to ride her bike.

Her obituary celebrates "her beautiful smile, loving heart and playful spirit.

"She lived seven years, inspiring friends and family," her family wrote. 

Ana Marquez-Greene was 6.

She was the daughter of American jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, and the granddaughter of Jorge Marquez, the mayor of Maunabo, Puerto Rico. She was close with her brother, 9-year-old Isaias, who was also at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday.

El Nuevo Dia

Ana Marquez-Greene

Jimmy Green named a song from his 2009 disc for his daughter, Ana Grace, the Ottawa Citizen noted. The family had recently moved to Newtown, Conn., from Winnipeg, Canada, where Greene was a faculty member at the University of Manitoba’s school of music.

"In her short life, Ana strengthened us with her loving, generous joyful spirit," the family said in a statement. "She often left sweet notes that read, 'I love you Mom and Dad,' under our bedroom pillow -- not on special occasions, but, rather, on ordinary days."

In a statement posted by the Citizen, Greene thanked friends for their prayers and words of support: “As we work through this nightmare, we’re reminded how much we’re loved and supported on this earth and by our Father in heaven. As much as she’s needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise. I love you sweetie girl.”

Read more at NBC Latino

Ana’s grandmother Elba Iris Marquez told Nuevo Dia: “I want to believe this is not really happening to me.” The newspaper said she was drowned in grief.

Dylan Hockley was 6.

He was born in Winchester, England, to his British father, Ian Thomas, and American mother, Nicole Marie (Moretti) of Sandy Hook. The family moved to Connecticut from England two years ago.

His grandmother, Teresa Moretti of Cranston, R.I., told the Boston Herald that Dylan loved garlic bread, bouncing on his trampoline and playing Wii.

“Dylan had dimples and blue eyes,” Moretti told the Herald as she fought back tears. “He had the most mischievous little grin. To know him was to love him.”

Dylan’s parents had lived in England for 18 years before moving to a house on the same street as Nancy Lanza in January, according to the Telegraph. Dylan’s 8-year-old brother, Jake, who also attended Sandy Hook Elementary, survived the shooting.

"We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy," said his family in a statement, NBCConnecticut.com reported on Monday evening. "Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day."

Madeleine F. Hsu was 6.

Madeleine was shy and quiet but lit up around dogs, neighbor Karen Dryer told NBCConnecticut.com.

"She would come off the bus and her face would light up when she saw the dog," said Dryer who has a golden retriever.

After getting off the bus she would hug her mom and little sister.

"She was just an absolute doll. She seemed very shy, but she was just so sweet," said Dryer.

Catherine V. Hubbard was 6. 

Her family says that she will be remembered for her passion for animals and constant smile.

“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. We ask that you continue to pray for us and the other families who have experienced loss in this tragedy,” said her parents, Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard, in a statement that also expressed gratitude to emergency responders and the community.

Chase Kowalski was 7.

Chase was “a fun-loving, energetic boy that had a true love of life,” whose “heart was only filled with love for all the people he touched,” his family said.

Chase completed his first triathlon at the age of 6 and ran in many community road races, his obituary said.

Kevin Grimes, a neighbor whose five children all previously attended Sandy Hook, told the Associated Press that Chase was always outside, playing in the backyard and riding his bicycle. 

Last week he was over and told him about completing in - and winning - his first mini-triathlon.

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

Another neighbor, Suzanne Baumann, told the Wall Street Journal that he always greeted people. “He was very receptive to people. He was a beautiful child, an amazing child.”

Jesse Lewis was 6.

Jesse liked playing with horses that were kept in a barn next to his house, The Danbury News Times reported.

"I'd be in the yard or in the house and I would hear him laughing, playing," George Arfaras, 81, a neighbor, told the newspaper.

On Friday morning, he had his favorite breakfast sandwich at a local deli – sausage, egg and cheese, NBCConnecticut reported.

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

“Jesse was such an incredible light. So bright and full of love. He lived life with vigor and passion … brave and true,” Jesse’s mother wrote in an email to the paper.

James Mattioli was 6.

Fondly called “J” by his family, James was “an energetic, loving friend to all,” his obituary said.

He liked playing baseball, basketball, swimming, arm wrestling and playing games on the iPad.

"He loved to wear shorts and t-shirts in any weather, and grab the gel to spike his hair,” his obituary said. “He would often sing at the top of his lungs and once asked, 'How old do I have to be to sing on a stage?'" 

James loved hamburgers with ketchup, his dad’s egg omelets with bacon and his mom’s French toast, the obituary said.

Annette Sullivan, the owner of Zoar Ridge Stables in Sandy Hook, Conn., told the Connecticut Post that James and his older sister Anna would ride horses at her stables.

“He would ask about the saddles and the brushes,” Sullivan told the Post. “He wanted to know how to take care of the horses. He was a boy that wanted to know how everything worked.”

His parents said in the obituary that he “was a numbers guy, coming up with insights beyond his years to explain the relationship between numbers and unique ways of figuring out the answer when adding and subtracting.”

His parents said James was especially thoughtful and considerate and was “always the first to welcome guests at the back door with a hug and his contagious smile.” 

Grace McDonnell was 7.

Family Photo / AP

Grace McDonnell, 7.

Grace, or Gracie, lived in Newtown with her parents and older brother, 12-year-old Jack. Mary Ann McDonnell, Grace’s grandmother, told the Boston Herald that Grace loved art projects, soccer gymnastics and her King Charles Spaniel, Puddin.

She was surrounded by bags of gifts intended for her granddaughter when she spoke with the Herald.

“They kept saying, ‘They can’t find her. They can’t find her. All day long I was praying she would be OK,” Mary Ann McDonnell recounted.

“A little baby like that – I hope she didn’t suffer.”

Emilie Parker was 6.

Her father, Robbie Parker, described his daughter as loving and creative.

Courtesy Parker family

Emilie Parker, 6.

“My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that’s the kind of person she is, not because of any kind of parenting my wife and I could have done but because those are the gifts that were given to her by our heavenly Father,” Parker said.  

Emilie carried around pencils and crayons, and when people were sad, she would draw them a picture or write them a note. Recently, she dropped a card into the casket of her grandfather, who also died tragically, Parker said.

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

In a later statement, Robbie Parker wrote: "Remember these beautiful children; keep them close to our hearts. Do not let their bright shining faces become extinguished. Let us do everything in our power to ensure their light will continue to shine brighter and brighter in all we do to remember them."

Courtesy of Pinto family

Jack Pinto, 6.

Jack Pinto was 6.

He was born in Danbury, Conn., to parents Dean and Tricia (Volkmann) Pinto.

Jack’s family said he was an avid participant in flag football, baseball, basketball, wrestling and snow skiing, as well as a big New York Giants fan.

N.Y. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz honored Jack on Sunday by writing on his cleats "Jack Pinto, My Hero" and "R.I.P. Jack Pinto."

“Jack was an incredibly loving and vivacious young boy, appreciated by all who knew him for his lively and giving spirit and steely determination,” his family said in his obituary. “In life and death, Jack will forever be remembered for the immeasurable joy he brought to all who had the pleasure of knowing him, a joy whose wide reach belied his six short years.” 

Family photo via AP

Noah Pozner

Noah Pozner was 6.

He was the youngest of the victims, having turned 6 last month. He was born in Danbury, Conn., to parents Lenny and Veronique Pozner, who described their son as “the light of our family, a little soul devoid of spite and meanness.” His twin sister, Arielle, who was assigned to a different classroom at Sandy Hook, survived the shooting. He also had an 8-year-old sister at the school, according to Newsday.

Rabbi Shaul Praver tended to Veronique Pozner in her grief.

“She said that she didn’t know how she was going to go on, and we encouraged her to focus on her other four children that need her and not to try to plan out the rest of her life, just take a deep breath right now,” Praver said, according to forward.com.

Noah’s uncle, Arthur Pozner of Brooklyn, N.Y., told Newsday that Noah was very mature.

“When I was his age, I was not like him,” he said. “Very well brought up. Extremely bright. Extremely bright,” he said. “The reason they moved to that area is because they did not consider any school in New York state on the same level. That’s one of the reasons they moved, for safety and education.”

His funeral and burial was held on Monday.

Caroline Previdi was 6. 

Caroline was born in Danbury, Conn., to parents Jeffrey and Sandy Johnson Previdi.

Her family said she loved to draw, dance, and gymnastics, and her smile brought happiness to everyone she touched.

"Caroline Phoebe Previdi was a blessing from God and brought joy to everyone she touched," her parents, Jeff and Sandy Previdi, said in a statement, NBCConnecticut.com reported. "We know that she is looking down on us from Heaven."

One family friend, who declined to be named, told the Washington Post that Caroline once went by the nickname “Boo” because she looked like the girl character in the movie “Monsters, Inc.”

Another family friend who lives in the Newtown area told the Post that Caroline “was a spunky little girl. She had fire to her.” 

Uncredited / AP

Jessica Rekos, 6.

Jessica Rekos was 6. 

She was born in Danbury, Conn., to Richard and Krista Lehmann Rekos of Sandy Hook.

“She was a creative, beautiful girl who loved playing with her little brothers, Travis and Shane,” her family said in a statement. As the firstborn, her family said, Jessica “started our family, and she was our rock. She had an answer for everything, she didn’t miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time. We called her our little CEO for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything.”

Jessica loved everything about horses, from reading horse books and drawing horses, to writing stories about horses, her family said in the statement from family friend Jamie Dunbar.

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

Avielle Richman was 6.

Avielle, or Avie, as she was called, moved to Connecticut with her parents, Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman, in 2011, according to an obituary at the Newtown Bee.

“She was born with a spitfire personality, which continued as she grew into a lover and teller of stories,” the obit said. “She offered her heart to everyone. With an infectious smile and peals of laughter, people were drawn to her beautiful spirit, which will live on in all of our hearts.”

She loved her friends, horseback riding, archery and “participating in super hero adventures,” the obit said.

Benjamin Wheeler was 6.

Ben was born in Manhattan, N.Y. and moved to Newtown with his parents, Francine and David Wheeler, and 9-year-old brother Nate, according to an obituary posted at the Newtown Bee.

“Ben 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,” the obituary said. “He was a devoted fan of his older brother, Nate, and the two of them together filled the house with the noise of four children.”

According to the obit, Ben loved The Beatles, lighthouses and the number 7 train to Queens. He told his mother, Francine Wheeler, on Friday morning that he wanted to be an architect and also a paleontologist.

Courtesy of Wyatt family

Allison Wyatt, 6.

"That's what Nate is going to be," he told his mom. "And I want to do everything Nate does."

Allison N. Wyatt was 6.

Allison, daughter of Cheyanne and Ben Wyatt, was a sweet girl and a budding artist who would turn parts of her family’s Newtown home into an art studio, according to a family statement.

“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,” her family wrote. “She loved her family and teachers especially, but would often surprise us with random acts of kindness - once even offering her snacks to a complete stranger on a plane.” 

She loved to laugh and was developing a sense of humor beyond being just a silly 6-year-old, her parents said, “coming up with observations that more than once had us crying with laughter.”

A neighbor told the Connecticut Post that Allison would spend the summer outdoors, and that she often saw her gardening with her mother.

“Allison made the world a better place for six, far too short years and we now have to figure out how to move on without her,” her family wrote. “Our world is a lot darker now that she’s gone.  We love and miss her so much.”

Profiles compiled by Isolde Raftery and Andrew Mach of NBC News.