NEWTOWN, Conn. — It’s not the way Emilie Parker died that will matter. It’s the way she lived. Emilie was only 61/2, but to hear her father tell it, the little blond girl with the cornflower blue eyes was an extraordinary force in the lives of her loved ones.
“Emilie was bright, creative and very loving,” said Robbie Parker, 30, a physician assistant who moved his family from Utah to Connecticut eight months ago. An “exceptional artist” who always carried markers and pencils with her, Emilie never missed the chance to make a drawing or a card for those around her.
“I can’t count the number of times Emilie found someone feeling sad or frustrated and rushed to grab a piece of paper to draw them a picture or write them a note,” her father said Saturday.
In October, Emilie put one of her handmade cards into the casket of her grandfather, who had also died unexpectedly, Parker said, in “a tragic accident.”
With his simple description of a joyful child, Parker put a face on a national tragedy.
He expressed compassion not just for the victims and their families, but also for the family of the man who killed his child, and he urged that the massacre “not be something that defines us, but something that inspires us to be better.”
About two hours after Connecticut Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II revealed details about Friday’s carnage, including the fact that each of the 26 victims was shot multiple times, Emilie’s father spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes.
“Emilie was a mentor to her two little sisters and delighted in teaching them to read, dance and find the simple joys in life,” Parker said, at times choking up or growing teary.
“Her laughter was infectious. All those who had the pleasure to meet her would agree that this world has been a better place because she has been in it.”
Their last conversation, on Friday morning, took place in Portuguese, a language he was teaching her. “She told me ‘Good morning’ and asked how I was doing. I said that I was doing well. She said that she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door.”
Sixteen of the children who died Friday were, like Emilie, only 6 years old. Four were 7. The six adults who died — all women — were the school’s principal, its psychologist and four teachers.
The pain was so fresh for the victims’ families that most did not want to talk publicly. Through officials, they asked that their privacy be respected. Some acknowledged their losses in emailed comments or on social network sites.
Jennifer and Matthew Hubbard, parents of Catherine Violet Hubbard, a 6-year old with flame-red hair, emailed her photo and a statement of appreciation for the “overwhelming support” from their community and thanked authorities for their “outstanding work.” The Hubbards asked for prayers and for privacy, “that we be afforded the opportunity to grieve with our friends and family.”
Jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, the father of 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene, who had moved his family from Manitoba to Newtown last summer, posted a note on Facebook. The family was among many who had more than one child enrolled at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ana’s brother, Isaiah, a third-grader, made it out safely.
“As much as she’s needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to paradise,” Jimmy Greene wrote. “I love you sweetie girl.”
The sister of teacher Victoria Soto, 27, tweeted about her devastation on Friday. “My sister died protecting her students,” Carlee Soto wrote. “God, why do you take her?”
On her teacher Web page, Soto, pictured with her black lab, Roxie, said she was working toward a master’s degree in special education at Southern Connecticut State University.
“This is my third year as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook School! I absolutely love teaching first grade!” she wrote. "… I love to spend time reading books on the beach soaking up the sun. I also love flamingos and the New York Yankees. I look forward to an amazing year in first grade with my amazing students of room 10!”
In an interview with CNN, Soto’s cousin, Jim Wiltsie, said she died a hero. “She gathered herself and her children into a closet and put herself in harm’s way between the gunman and the kids,” he said. “She was doing what was right in her heart.”
Like many of her small charges, Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, had energy to spare. Running a K-through-4 school might have been a big enough challenge for any administrator, but Hochsprung also had been pursuing an education doctorate at the Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges, a 21/2-hour drive from her home. She had 14 classmates, and the group was close.
“One could see her love for children in her face every time she spoke of them,” said classmate Jason Andrews, superintendent of Windsor Central School District in Windsor, N.Y. “It is not surprising that she gave her life in such a heroic way — protecting the lives of the children in her school she loved so much.”
Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, was in a meeting with Hochsprung when the shooting began. Hochsprung and Sherlach were running toward the gunman to protect students when they were shot, Newtown Public School District Supt. Janet Robinson said Saturday.
On her teacher Web page, Sherlach said she loved her job and had been at Sandy Hook Elementary since 1994. She had worked as a rehabilitation assistant at a psychiatric facility and with disabled adults in a group home. Sherlach described herself as “always ready to assist in problem solving, intervention and prevention.”
Married for more than 30 years and the mother of two grown daughters, she loved traveling with her husband, Bill, gardening, theater and reading.
Lauren Rousseau, a 30-year-old permanent substitute, had wanted to be a teacher even before she entered kindergarten, her mother, Teresa Rousseau, said in an emailed statement. “We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream,” Rousseau wrote.
Rousseau was born and lived for most of her life in Danbury, about 12 miles from Newtown. She had a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport. Before she landed her job at Sandy Hook in October, Rousseau had worked as a substitute teacher in nearby schools.
Rousseau’s mother, a copy editor at the Danbury News-Times, told her newspaper that Lauren’s time at Sandy Hook “was the best year of her life.” She and her boyfriend, who called her “Busy Bee,” had planned to see the “The Hobbit” Friday night, the paper said. Rousseau had made cupcakes decorated with pictures of “Hobbit” actors.
Rachel D’Avino, 29, a special education teacher, had begun working at Sandy Hook only this fall.
“She was one of the funniest, loudest, happiest people ever,” said a friend, who asked for anonymity out of respect for D’Avino’s family. Partial to Disney musicals, she loved to connect with her students by dressing in costumes and singing. “She was willing to do absolutely anything for the kids she worked with,” the friend said.
A double tragedy struck on Yogananda Street, about two miles from the school. The Hockley family, who lost their 6-year-old, Dylan Hockley, lives across the street from the gunman and his mother, Nancy Lanza, 52, who was found dead in her home.
Rhonda Cullens, 52, who lives around the corner from the Lanza home on Founders Lane, said Nancy Lanza was a short, thin woman with strawberry blond hair, a stay-at-home mother with two sons, the youngest of whom has been identified as the gunman.
Nancy Lanza was described by another neighbor, Gina McDade, as “always chatty and well put-together.”
“She was a social person,” McDade said, adding that she felt sorry for Lanza and “the tarnishing of her family.”
Standing in the doorway of her home, decorated with a wreath and holiday trimmings, McDade described Lanza’s former husband, Peter Lanza, as “a nice guy, a businessman.”
“This is a neighborhood that’s strong, that’s very close-knit. Everyone is just reaching out to each other,” said Jim McDade, 59, a relationship manager in the financial industry. The shooting, he said, has not made him fearful. “It doesn’t change my opinion of what a safe, normal community we live in.”
Times staff writers Robin Abcarian and Wesley Lowery in Los Angeles and Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Brian Bennett in Newtown contributed to this report.