Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Dawn Hochsprung, 47 (AP Photo/Eliza Hallabeck / December 16, 2012)

"She gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me," an emotional Paul Singley, now a senior editor for the online news service Patch.com and an adjunct professor at a local community college, told the hundreds gathered in Naugatuck on Tuesday night. "I look at my daughter and I can't help think she gave me another great gift in this world."

Hochsprung eventually found love, too.

While working as an assistant principal at a Danbury school, she met George Hochsprung, 70, a former Teacher of the Year who taught gifted students, and a father of three. She was drawn to his methods of teaching and eventually – after five wedding proposals – to him.

"He was the greatest thing that ever happened to her," Lafferty said.

For one anniversary, Hochsprung showed her love — and wit — by cutting off her beloved long hair.

"George loved her hair short," Lafferty said. "She chopped it all off and gave it to him in a bag."

The couple married on May 24, 2003, aboard a charter boat docked at Mystic Seaport. When it started to rain during the ceremony, the soon-to-be Mrs. Hochsprung, a blissful bride in a flowing white cape, turned to her girls and said, "No, it's not rain, it's sea spray."

The couple took salsa and ballroom dancing classes and learned how to sail before buying a 36-foot boat they took on excursions to Martha's Vineyard, Port Jefferson, N.Y., and Watch Hill, R.I. Recently, they traded in the boat for a lake house they built in upstate New York.

Dawn Hochsprung was working toward earning a Ph.D. at Russell Sage College in New York at the time of her death. Her plan was to move to her dream house with her husband a home that sits next door to the home of her own mother, Cheryl — and work at a school in the area.

Though a gunman dashed those dreams, Lafferty said the family still has plans for the home. She wants to get married there this summer to her fiance, Christopher Smegielski. She's optimistic that memories still can be made in her mother's dream home.

Optimism, she said, is one of her mother's legacies that she hopes to keep in spite of the heartache the family is now enduring.

As the rain became more steady at Tuesday night's vigil, soaking gatherers' hair and coats, Lafferty clutched her grandmother close and whispered, "It's not rain, it's sea spray."

The family has set up the Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Memorial Fund at Waterbury Connecticut Teachers Federal Credit Union. For donations or information, please visit http://www.wctfcu.com or WCTFCU, P.O. Box 2121, Waterbury, CT, 06722.