The father of one of the children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday has extended his sympathy to all the families touched by the tragedy - including that of the killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
THE father of one of the children slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last Friday has extended his sympathy to all the families touched by the tragedy - including that of the killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza.
''I'd really like to offer our deepest condolences to all the families who are directly affected by this shooting,'' the father of Emilie, 6, said in an emotional statement to the media on Saturday night, US time.
''It's an horrific tragedy and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them. This includes the family of the shooter.''
Fighting back tears, Robert Parker, 30, said his daughter would have been one of the first ''to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that's the type of person she is''.
As authorities released the names of the 20 children - 12 girls and eight boys, all aged six or seven - and six adults, all female, killed at the school, portraits of some of the dead began to emerge. (Lanza's first victim was his mother, Nancy, 52, killed at their home. His last was himself.)
Emilie Parker was the kind of child who could ''light up a room'', said her father. She was creative, had an infectious laugh and was ''always able to try new things - except foods''.
His last conversation with his daughter on Friday morning was in Portuguese, a language he had been teaching her. ''She said that she loved me, and she gave me a kiss, and I was out the door,'' said Mr Parker, whose family moved to Newtown just eight months ago so he could start a job as a physician's assistant. ''I'm so blessed to be her dad,'' he said.
Tributes poured in for Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of the 575-student school for kinder to grade four in the affluent town of 27,000 where the average annual household income is $100,000.
She had been principal since 2010, and had added a new line to the school's motto, ''Think you can. Work hard. Get smart. Be kind.'' Her addendum: ''Have fun.''
The 47-year-old, who lived with her teacher husband, George, and five daughters (two hers, three his), ''was everything you'd want in an educator'', said local education deputy superintendent William Glass. It was not uncommon to see her down on the floor working ''shoulder-to-shoulder, on her knees with the kids,'' he said.
''She was an awesome woman,'' said Donna Kowalski, a mother of a former student at the school. ''Very warm, and caring. She talked to you, not at you.''
''She loved kids and kids loved her,'' said Barbara Durniak, who had worked as Mrs Hochsprung's
secretary for five years at another school.
Mrs Hochsprung was one of the first people killed by Lanza, when she and two colleagues ran out to confront the gunman as shots rang out about 9.35am on Friday. She had recently written a paper on the topic ''exhibiting courage in the face of fear'' for the doctorate in educational leadership she had begun this year.
''She had the courage to put other people's needs in front of her own,'' said Janice White, one of her professors.
Mrs Hochsprung was joined by her vice-principal and the school psychologist, 56-year-old Mary Sherlach in confronting Lanza. Only the vice-principal survived, albeit with a gunshot wound to the foot.
Mrs Sherlach, who had been married to her financial planner husband, Bill, for 30 years and had two adult daughters, had been at the school since 1994 and was a year away from retirement.
Her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, said of her: ''Mary felt like she was doing God's work, working with the children.''
Although Anne Marie Murphy's role as a teacher's assistant was to provide one-on-one help to a special-needs student, her last thoughts were to save as many as she could. The 52-year-old married mother of four was found in a classroom, her body on top of those of several pupils she had tried to shield from Lanza.
Thirty-year-old Lauren Russo had planned to see The Hobbit on Friday night with her boyfriend she had even made little cakes decorated with the faces of the actors to celebrate. ''She was like a kid in many ways,'' her father, Gilles Rousseau, said. ''That's why she liked working with kids so much. She died with her little kids.''
Her mother, Teresa, said Lauren had only ever wanted to teach, and that after years of being a substitute teacher landing a full-time job at the school in October was a dream come true. ''Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten,'' she said. ''We will ? take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream.''
Like so many of the teachers at the school on Friday, Victoria Soto, could think only of how to make her students safe in the face of unthinkable danger. The 27-year-old hurried them into a bathroom.
Two students stood on the toilet. Others huddled on the floor. With no space left, Ms Soto stepped out of the small room and confronted Lanza. She told the gunman the children were in the gym. He then shot her.
''She got those kids to a good place and then told them they were safe,'' said Robert Licata, the parent of one of those first-graders who survived.''
''She died protecting the kids that she loved,'' added Ms Soto's sister Jillian. ''We're very proud to say she's our sister.''
Elsewhere in the school, children hid in closets, barricaded themselves in restooms and huddled in classroom corners while their teachers did their best to persuade them of something they didn't always believe themselves - everything would be all right.
A janitor ran through the halls alerting others to the shooting, and someone switched on the intercom, a move that may have been instrumental in saving lives by alerting others in the school to what was happening.
But not all the children were so lucky. Not Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old who loved horses and was described by a neighbour as a ''bright, precocious little boy'' and by Jodi Mucherino, a waitress at the local diner where he and his family ate every Saturday, as a ''little ball of fire''.
Not seven-year-old Chase Kowalski, a sporty child who had recently competed in, and won, his first mini-triathlon.
And certainly not Ana Marquez-Greene, the six-year-old daughter of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Greene, who moved his family from Winnipeg in July when he landed a job in the music department of Western Connecticut State University.
On a Facebook posting, Greene wrote: ''Thank you all for your prayers and kind words of support. As we work through this nightmare, we're reminded of how much we're loved and supported on this earth and by our Father in heaven.''
Ana's brother, Isaiah, who also attends Sandy Hook school, escaped unharmed.
Greene's message continued: ''As much as she's needed here and missed by her mother, brother and me, Ana beat us all to heaven. I miss you sweetie girl.''