NEWTOWN, Conn. — It remains among America’s most heinous nightmares: The lives of 20 little children — dancers and swimmers, pianists and painters, budding readers, little sisters and big brothers — extinguished in a flash of violence inside Sandy Hook Elementary.
Taken with them on that chilly Friday in December — just 11 days before Christmas — were six adults felled by the same gunman as they refused to abandon their sacred trust to safeguard the smallest among them.
Five years later, even those who have never set foot near Newtown, Connecticut, can conjure the scene painted by police of a first-grade classroom transformed into a killing field.
Can see the faces of anguished parents desperate for proof of life, then later, tiny caskets overloaded with stuffed animals never to be named.
Since the 2012 massacre, a new school has been built for the students of a town known, now and for years to come, as a cradle of sorrow — but also as the home of quiet resilience and untold love.
The 12 girls, eight boys and six women whose futures were stolen that day will be remembered, always.
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Charlotte was sweet, outgoing and full of energy, her grandmother told WCCO in Minnesota.
“This is tough. This is surreal. You can’t believe this could happen,” Irene Hagen told the station. “The whole family is just devastated, and we’re all trying to come to terms with it.”
She said her granddaughter loved school and dresses. Her hair was a mass of beautiful red curls.
“It’s horrible. It’s really horrible,” Hagen told WCCO. “It’s hard to believe that someone would kill children, innocent children.”
Daniel Barden, 7
Daniel earned his missing two front teeth, his family used to say. His “fearless” pursuit of happiness and life also earned him ripped jeans.
“Despite that, he was, as his mother said, ‘Just So Good,’” his family wrote in a statement published in the New Haven Register.
Taking after his musician dad, he and his siblings — brother James and sister Natalie — formed a band. Daniel played drums.
He loved to ride waves at the beach and make s’mores around bonfires with his cousins.
“He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world,” the family said.
Rachel D’Avino, 29
She probably didn’t know it when she died, but her best friend was about to propose.
He had recently asked D’Avino’s parents for their blessing, and he was planning to ask for her hand in…