7 Years After Sandy Hook, Families Share Sorrow and How They're Keeping Victims' Legacies Alive
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel was the boy who looked out for everyone — “from his classmates and his family to the worms on the sidewalk,” says his dad, Mark Barden. “He can’t do that anymore, so I try to do that work for him.” Barden cofounded the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, which trains students and faculty to respond to early warning signs of mental illness that can lead to school shootings.
Rachel D'Avino, 29
A therapist working with students on the autism spectrum, D'Avino now has her name on a scholarship for those continuing her life’s passion. “The scholarship means a lot to us, but it’s also heartbreaking,” says her sister Hannah D’Avino. “It gets harder," she says. "You realize what you’ve lost a little more each day.”
Olivia Engel, 6
The giggly Daisy Scout died before she got to be the angel in her church’s nativity play. Her family gave funds to a dog park so that “Olivia will continue to bring joy to this community.”
Josephine Gay, 7
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
The principal, beloved by kids and parents alike for the kind of spirit that had her leading conga lines at school dances, died after lunging at the gunman. “Five years later I choose to remember the good times — her smile, her laughter and every time she told me I’ll always be her baby girl,” says daughter Erica Lafferty, now an activist for safer gun laws.
Dylan Hockley, 6
“There’s a theory that if a butterfly flaps his wings on one side of the world, it can cause a hurricane on the other,” says his mom, Nicole Hockley. “Dylan is my butterfly. When I visit schools and look at the kids, I see butterflies. They’re the ones who are going to create the change that will change our country.”
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Madeleine loved reading, says Bill Lavin, founder of the group that built playgrounds honoring each Sandy Hook victim. So her playground, in West Islip, New York, includes a library where kids can exchange books.
Catherine Hubbard, 6
“Catherine was all about caring for the animals,” says her mother, Jenny Hubbard, who founded an animal sanctuary in her name in Newtown, Connecticut.
“The one thing that we are truly fortunate for, and not a day goes by that we don’t acknowledge, is that we’ve been afforded an incredible opportunity in honoring Catherine’s memory and her legacy,” Hubbard says.
Chase Kowalski, 7
“I see the joy on their faces, and I know that’s what he would have been doing,” says mom Rebecca Kowalski. “I get to see these kids grow up when I don’t get to see Chase grow up.”
Jesse Lewis, 6
Jesse's loving personality inspired his mom, Scarlett Lewis, to launch the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement to help kids with social and emotional learning. The holidays were Jesse’s favorite time of year, says his dad, Neil Heslin, who remembers setting up the Christmas tree with his son just before the shooting.
“I didn’t have the heart to take it down,” Heslin says, “until this year.”
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
A daughter of musicians, Ana loved singing and “danced to all the music she heard,” her father, Jimmy Greene, said in 2012. “It is almost unfathomable to me that she’s been gone almost as long as we had her,” mom Nelba Marquez-Greene wrote on Facebook on Sept. 15. “There have been 1,736 days since Ana was murdered ... and exactly that many days since my heart was whole.”
James Mattioli, 6
The outdoorsy ball of energy who loved baseball and helping his dad in the yard is remembered through a 5K in his birthplace of Milford, Connecticut, and a scholarship in his name.
Grace McDonnell, 7
A “girlie girl” who loved the beach and helping her mom bake cookies, Grace has a beachside playground named for her in Mystic, Connecticut, where her parents, Chris and Lynn McDonnell, got engaged.
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
The special-education aide called her four children the “four pillars of her life,” her husband, Michael Murphy, recalled at her funeral. But she treated her students as her own too and died cradling Dylan Hockley in her arms. “Dylan loved her so much,” says his mom, “and [he] pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day.”
Emilie Parker, 6
Emilie’s Christmas stocking is hung again this year — it’s where her little sisters, just 3 and 4 years old when Emilie died, leave their letters to her for Santa to deliver to heaven. In their countdown to Christmas, Emilie kept track of the family’s Advent calendar.
Jack Pinto, 6
Dedicating a Jersey Shore playground in Jack’s name in 2013, Dean Pinto said it was the perfect memorial for his son, who had a “love for play and playgrounds [and] helping people.”
Noah Pozner, 6
Arielle, Noah’s twin sister, is 11 now, says their father, Lenny Pozner, who moved the family to Florida after the shooting. “I see my daughters grow, and I wonder what Noah would look like now," Pozner says. "He was a perfect little boy.”
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Her parents created the Avielle Foundation to study the science behind violence and compassion. What would Avielle have become if she’d had the chance to grow up? “An artist and a spy. Oh, and a fairy princess, and a writer,” reads the website.
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
“A good day for Mary was when she could spend all day with kids,” says the school psychologist’s widower, Bill Sherlach. He now works with Sandy Hook Promise and, with their two daughters, started Mary’s Fund to give kids free counseling and other mental-health care.
“We are continuing her work,” says Bill. “You don’t get over grief; you just live with it.”
Victoria Soto, 27
Soto was “the fun teacher” who loved flamingos and finding the perfect Christmas tree, says her sister Carlee Soto Parisi, whose family started a memorial fund to give scholarships of $5,026 — “the number 26 to keep in mind why we do it,” Parisi says — to teachers who embody her “live, laugh, love” spirit.
“We will not let Vicki’s memory die,” says Parisi.
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
He loved lighthouses, so community members started Ben’s Lighthouse to help give kids “the tools and self-confidence to stand tall and shine bright,” says Ben’s dad, David Wheeler. “We miss him so much, but we will never stop working to create a legacy for Ben that he never had the chance to build for himself.”
Allison Wyatt, 6
Allison’s drawings turned her family’s home into an art museum. “She was a sweet, creative, funny, intelligent little girl,” her parents wrote on a memorial website.
• Reporting by ELAINE ARADILLAS, K.C. BAKER, LIZ McNEIL and JEFF TRUESDELL