Most died at the very start of their young lives. 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.
Now, she is being called a hero.
Investigators told 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, 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 with a wide smile, in pictures of her at her college graduation and in mundane daily life. Her goal was simply to be a teacher.
“She lost her life doing what she loved,” Wiltsie said.
Olivia Engel, 6, student
The images of Olivia will live far beyond her short lifetime. There she is, visiting with Santa Claus, or feasting on a slice of birthday cake. There's the one of her swinging a pink baseball bat, and another posing on a boat. In some, she models a pretty white dress, in others she makes a silly face.
Dan Merton, a longtime friend of the girl's family, says he could never forget the child, and he has much to say when he thinks of her.
"She loved attention," he said. "She had perfect manners, perfect table manners. She was the teacher's pet, the line leader."
On Friday, Merton said, she was simply excited to go to school and return home and make a gingerbread house.
"Her only crime," he said, "is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old."
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student
A year ago, Ana Marquez-Greene was reveling in holiday celebrations with her extended family on her first trip to Puerto Rico.
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 is 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
Hochsprung’s pride in Sandy Hook Elementary was clear, regularly tweeting photos. Just this week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert.
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, she 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, the 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, Sherlach threw herself into the danger.
Janet Robinson, the superintendent of Newtown Public Schools, said Sherlach also ran toward the shooter.
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.
Son-in-law Eric Schwartz told the South Jersey Times that Sherlach rooted on the Miami Dolphins, enjoyed visiting the Finger Lakes and relished helping children overcome their problems. She had planned to leave work early 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
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.
“Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten,” her mother, Teresa Rousseau, said in a a statement Saturday. “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 said.
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, went to college at the University of Connecticut and then 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, Murphy’s parents had no shortage of adjectives to offer Newsday.
Authorities told Hugh and Alice McGowan that their daughter was a hero who helped shield some of her students from the rain of bullets.
“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 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,” said Grimes, whose five children also attended Sandy Hook.
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 Saturday 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.
To the gunman’s family, he said, “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you.”
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 for the game nights she held 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.
The two shared a home in a well-to-do Newtown neighborhood.
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.”