Mourners Raise A Light Against the Darkness

Like the lives touched by Dawn L. Hochsprung, the candles at her vigil Tuesday night were lit by passing the flame from person to person in the crowd.

In Naugatuck, where Hochsprung graduated from high school in 1983, the vigil began with the singing of the names of those who died at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. Hochsprung, principal of the school for the past two years, was remembered as a "born leader."

Her high school track coach, Ron Aliciene, told hundreds gathered in the rain on the Naugatuck Town Green Tuesday night that Hochsprung almost was an assistant coach — and that those skills served her well as an educator.

"She never met a challenge she was not able to overcome and conquer," Aliciene said, recalling the captain of the track team who became a school administrator. "She was bright. She had an outstanding personality and an infectious smile to nurture children. Dawn was a born leader."

The vigil for Hochsprung — whose funeral and burial will be private — ended with moving choruses of "Amazing Grace" and "Silent Night."

Tuesday also was marked by the funerals of two of the first-graders who died Friday — James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, both 6. And in Stratford, mourners stood in line for hours to pay their respects to the family of first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, who died protecting students in her class. And at a memorial in Newtown near the school, a steady stream of people, many of them from New York, placed teddy bears, flowers and notes — and paused to reflect.

The Rev. Gordon Rankin, of the Congregational Church in Naugatuck, said he was troubled that it took such a tragedy for people to put down their TV remotes and cellphones and "raise a light against the darkness."

"As we look at these candles we know that we have lost so very much," Rankin said. "I am troubled for a town left to make sense of devastation while the eyes of the nation and the world watch. I know my heart is not alone. I know every heart here is troubled tonight."

Soto Remembered

Twenty-five miles from Naugatuck, in Stratford, hundreds of mourners streamed into a funeral home to pay respects Tuesday to Soto's family in her hometown. The wake included an honor guard from several police agencies, including the state police and the Stratford, Fairfield and Stamford departments.

Soto's older cousin, James Wiltsie, said he was awed by the outpouring of affection from friends, acquaintances and strangers who greeted the family during the wake.

"Everybody who talked to me said they loved her … 'We love Vicki' ... 'We love Miss Soto,'" he said. Teachers from throughout the state came to show their solidarity, he said.

"Vicki died protecting her children," Wiltsie said. "She didn't call them students. They were her kids."

Soto was in her third year as a first-grade teacher. She hid her students and is credited with saving many of them.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Wiltsie, a Marine who served in Somalia, said: "We want to offer thanks to the world, to the nation and to our community for the outpouring of love we've received."

Univision and Telemundo also covered the Soto wake after interviewing her family members in Puerto Rico. The coverage of the shootings, Soto's role in protecting the children, and her memorial services have drawn great interest in the Latino community, a Telemundo staff member said.

Earlier Tuesday, in Newtown, the funerals of James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos were held at St. Rose of Lima Church, the nexus for vigils, prayers and many funerals and the place for the community to come together to grieve. His funeral was first, and when it ended about 11:15 a.m., mourners and flowers had arrived for her service at noon.

Mournful Day

All day Tuesday, mourners — many of them touched by the shared grief of the community — continued to visit memorials dotting Newtown to pay their respects.

A growing number of mourners have stopped at what has become the main memorial site, just down the road from the school. The makeshift shrine has grown rapidly, as teddy bears, candles and notes are placed by a steady stream of visitors.