NEWTOWN, CT — As the years pass since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, one thing is certain. It does not get easier to process what happened on that day.
On Dec. 14, 2012, 20 students and six educators were murdered in an unfathomable act of violence that not only continues to shock, but has become a defining moment in recent Connecticut — and perhaps even American — history.
“The tragedy that occurred that day nine years ago is one of the worst in Connecticut history, but in its aftermath, we witnessed an outpouring of love, humanity, and kindness from over the entire world, spreading a message of hope that we must proactively work to protect,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. “We will never forget the twenty innocent children and six devoted educators whose lives were taken all too soon that terrible morning.”
In the nine years since the mass shooting, there have been hundreds of other school shootings, with about 150 such incidents in 2021 alone, according to research from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund.
Flags in Connecticut will be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday in remembrance of the victims, Lamont announced.
Additionally, Newtown schools will hold a remote learning day Tuesday to honor the victims, but also to avoid some of the stress the day holds for the school system and community.
“Nine years later, we remember the lives of the 20 young souls and the six incredible educators whose lives were taken far too soon,” said Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz. “I wish the families and friends of those who lost loved ones that day comfort and peace. It is up to us to continue the legacy of those lives lost, through acts of kindness, generosity, and love. May the Newtown community be surrounded by love and support today and every day, as the hearts of our Connecticut communities are with them.”
While the day remains a difficult one for the Newtown community and others, this year, families of some of the victims received legal victories over conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who was found guilty of defamation by default.
Jones had peddled a baseless conspiracy theory that the tragedy was a hoax; he finally recanted those statements years later. He lost similar court battles in Texas this year.
Below are the stories of the 26 victims from Sandy Hook Elementary School:
Photo courtesy of oliviaengel.org
Olivia Engel, 6
Olivia Engel, 6, was fond of animals, dancing and her little brother Brayden Engel, who she helped potty train by giving him stickers.
Olivia was born in Danbury Hospital on July 18, 2006 to parents Shannon (Merlino) and Brian Engel. She took part in dance and tennis lessons and played soccer, enjoyed swimming and also liked to draw and paint in art classes.
She developed an affinity for math, reading and other subjects. She took part in her church’s CCD program. Olivia was described as being smart, bubbly and able to light up any room she walked into.
Her family has chosen the Park and Bark project as a designated donation site.
Photo courtesy of What Would Daniel Do
Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel Barden will be remembered as a boy who was mature for his age and regarded as an “old soul.”
He went out of his way to make other kids feel accepted, especially children who sat alone, according to his biography on What Would Daniel Do, the official site in memory of him.
Daniel was the first person to greet visitors at home and the last person to say goodbye.
The Daniel Barden Highland Mudfest was started in his honor and proceeds benefit charities including the Sandy Hook Promise.
Rachel D’Avino, 29
Rachel D’Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist at Sandy Hook Elementary School who was hailed as a hero as she comforted and protected children in the middle of the shooting.
She was working on her doctorate and her boyfriend Anthony Cerritelli was planning to ask her to marry him on Christmas Eve.
D’Avino was born in Waterbury and received her bachelors degree from the University of Hartford and a master’s degree from Post University.
Besides her work, she was passionate about animals, cooking, photography, and karate. She would often go the extra mile for her students and would host holiday events and crafting parties for them.
Josephine Gay, 7
Josephine Gay turned 7-years-old just days before the shooting.
She was fond of the color purple, peanut butter and girly things like dressing up and playing with Barbie dolls, according to the New Haven Register.
Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother, became a founder of Safe and Sound, an organization that advocates for improved school security.
Photo courtesy Dawn Hochsprung Memorial Fund
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Dawn Hochsprung was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
She was memorialized as a hero who ran out to investigate the sound of gunfire coming from the halls of the school.
Hochsprung was remembered as an energetic educator who instilled a sense of fun at the school. She took part in costume days such as Inside Out and Backward Day and Pajama Day.
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6, was remembered a sweet girl, who remained upbeat. Madeleine loved to dance and was the middle child out of three girls, according to WFSB.
She also enjoyed reading.
Photo courtesy of Spadaccino and Gallagher and Son Funeral Home
James Mattioli, 6
James Mattioli, 6, was a fan of many sports including baseball, basketball, swimming, and arm wrestling. He would wear t-shirts and shorts in all types of weather and liked to sing at the top of his lungs. James also enjoyed spending time with his family.
He and his older sister Anna were best friends and Anna helped him advance his reading skills in first grade. He would spend the end of the day with his mom cuddling on the couch and he would take walks and do yard work with his dad.
Photo courtesy of AnneMarrie Murphy Facebook page
AnneMarie Murphy, 52
AnneMarie Murphy was hailed as a hero after she attempted to shield a student during the attack.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York celebrated the Mass of Christian burial. He compared Murphy to Jesus because she selflessly gave her life in order to save others.
Mourners at her funeral in Katonah, NY, filled the entire church and church steps on a cold morning.
Murphy grew-up in New York State.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Rekos Foundation
Jessica Rekos, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6, had only started taking horseback lessons as a five-year-old, but won a blue ribbon in her first and only horse show by the summer of 2012. She was also a huge fan of Orca Whales and would keep facts she learned about them from the Free Willy movies in a journal for her “whale research.”
For Christmas she asked for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat.
The Jessica Rekos Foundation was formed to continue her love of horses and whales. A two-week camp was held in the summer of 2013 and 2014 for children to receive riding instruction and lessons on proper horse care. They also got to make crafts and have fun.
The foundation also provides horseback riding lesson for students who would otherwise not have the opportunity to take weekly lessons. Money has also been put toward whale research and conservation and toward securing Newtown schools.
Image via Jowdy Kane Funeral Home
Emilie Parker, 6
Emilie Parker will be remembered as an art enthusiast who from the time she was 2-years-old was able to write her name and draw family stick figure portraits.
Her house was often covered in a variety of art supplies. Emilie’s parents found her after bedtime with her light on, drawing characters on a paper pad.
The Emilie Parker Art Connection was founded by her parents to honor her love of art by funding programs in the community and schools for the arts.
She enjoyed spending time with her family and her yellow Labrador Lily.
Newtown Kindness was created in her name and funds a number of scholarships and the Charlotte Bacon Acts of Kindness Awards. It is now known as the Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation.
Image courtesy Honan Funeral Home
Jesse Lewis, 6
Jesse Lewis’ parents said he would be remembered as a child full of light and love.
He will also be remembered for bravery far beyond his years. Jesse yelled for his classmates to run during the shooting as the gunman’s weapon jammed. Six of his peers escaped thanks to his leadership.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation works with professional educators to develop school-based education programs to change the culture of violence.
Jesse’s brother JT Lewis met with President Donald Trump and talked about how school safety could be improved. He announced he would run for a seat in the Connecticut State Senate.