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'Always smiling': Portraits of Conn. victims

Sunday - 12/16/2012, 4:35am  ET

This photo posted to the Emilie Parker Fund Facebook page shows Emilie Parker. Fighting back tears and struggling to catch his breath, Robbie Parker the father of 6-year-old Emile Parker who was gunned down in Friday's school shooting in Connecticut told the world about a little girl who loved to draw and was always smiling, and he also reserved surprising words of sympathy for the gunman. (AP Photo/Emilie Parker Fund)

MATT SEDENSKY
Associated Press

Most died at the very start of their young lives, tiny victims taken in a way not fit for anyone regardless of age. Others found their life's work in sheltering 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:

Olivia Engel, 6, student

The images of Olivia Engel 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."

___

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.

And now, Victoria Soto is being called a hero.

Though details of the 27-year-old teacher's death remained fuzzy, her name has been invoked again and again as a portrait of selflessness and humanity among unfathomable evil. Those who knew her said they weren't surprised by reports she shielded her first-graders from danger.

"She put those children first. That's all she ever talked about," said a friend, Andrea Crowell. "She wanted to do her best for them, to teach them something new every day."

Photos of Soto show her always with a wide smile, in pictures of her at her college graduation and in mundane daily life. She looks so young, barely an adult herself. Her goal was simply to be a teacher.

"You have a teacher who cared more about her students than herself," said Mayor John Harkins of Stratford, the town Soto hailed from and where more than 300 people gathered for a memorial service Saturday night. "That speaks volumes to her character, and her commitment and dedication."

___

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, student

A year ago, 6-year-old Ana Marquez-Greene was reveling in holiday celebrations with her extended family on her first trip to Puerto Rico. This year will be heartbreakingly different.

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 reputation. The grandmother's brother, Jorge Marquez, is mayor of a Puerto Rican town and said the child's 9-year-old brother also was at the school, but escaped safely.

Elba Marquez had just visited the new home over Thanksgiving and finds herself perplexed by what happened. "What happened does not match up with the place where they live," she said.

A video shows a confident Ana hitting every note as she sings "Come, Thou Almighty King." She flashes a big grin and waves to the camera when she's done.

Jorge Marquez confirmed the girl's father is saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who wrote on Facebook that he was trying to "work through this nightmare."

"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," he wrote.

___

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, principal

Dawn Hochsprung's pride in Sandy Hook Elementary was clear. She regularly tweeted photos from her time as principal there, giving indelible glimpses of life at a place now known for tragedy. Just this week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert, days before that the tiny hands of kindergartners exchanging play money at their makeshift grocery store.

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, 47-year-old Hochsprung shared a picture of the school's evacuation drill with the message "Safety first." When the unthinkable came, she was ready to defend.

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