One of the 6-year-olds was so sweet his teacher said he should have come to school wrapped in a bow.
Another loved princess tea parties, Justin Bieber and trips to New York. Still another, who rode horses, was hoping for a cowgirl hat and boots for Christmas.
One year later, the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, still evokes raw emotion and sadness. On Saturday, a day after another school shooting, this time at a Colorado high school where two students were wounded, the United States will pause to remember the tragedy and revisit the contentious issue of guns in America.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza, 20, shot his way into the school he had once attended and murdered 20 first-graders, all aged 6 and 7, and six adults. Before heading to the school, he killed his mother in her bed, who had legally purchased the guns Lanza used that day.
Newtown officials say the town wants to be left alone on the anniversary. Some of the victims' families have encouraged those moved by the shooting to mark the day by performing an act of kindness in their own communities.
A bus traveling from Newtown to Monroe stops in front of 26 angels along the roadside on the first day of classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School students. (AP file photo)
Around the country, advocates of stricter gun control who see Newtown as a rallying call for action will ring bells to signal their refusal to let up despite setbacks. The group Mayors Against Illegal Guns says there have been 28 school shootings since Newtown.
On that deadly Friday, teachers were in the midst of their morning meetings or starting the day's first lesson when gunfire was heard in the hallways and over the intercom system.
Eleven minutes after blasting his way in, Lanza ended his rampage with suicide. The aftershocks live on.
Jimmy Greene kisses his wife Nelba Marquez-Greene while holding a portrait of their daughter, Ana Marquez-Greene, a victim of the mass shooting, in Newtown. (AP file photo)
"There's no guidebook for this, not at all," said Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, a first-grade teacher who survived the attack by hiding with her students in a tiny bathroom adjacent to a room where other children and adults lost their lives.
For months after the shooting, Roig-DeBellis said she struggled to understand why it had happened and why she was still alive.
"For me, I have moved forward. But I will never move on," she said. Roig-DeBellis, and many of the families who lost loved ones on that day, plan to be out of town for the anniversary.
White roses bearing the faces of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are displayed on a telephone pole near the school in Newtown. (AP file photo)
Light shining through
In Newtown, about 70 miles (112 km) northeast of New York City, officials have vowed to enforce a sense of normalcy as this Connecticut town of about 28,000 begins a day of quiet, if still anguished, reflection.
"The community needs time to be alone and to reflect on our past year in personal ways, without a camera or a microphone," First Selectman Pat Llodra told a news conference this week. The group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has announced 50 events, including a "communal bell-ringing," as a symbol of their resolve not to let up in advocating for change they believe will prevent gun violence in America.
The group, along with Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is largely funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, also released an ad drawing attention to the more than two dozen.
A woman waits to hear about her sister, a teacher, following a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. (AP file photo)
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence will rally at the National Rifle Association's headquarters in Virginia to "hold the gun lobby accountable for its continued opposition to popular reforms."
A representative from the NRA, which opposes new gun control measures as unfair and onerous for responsible gun owners, did not respond to a request for comment. The NRA has called for better school security and the presence of armed guards.
After the tragedy, Connecticut passed a series of new gun control and mental health measures, but a similar effort pushed by President Barack Obama failed in the US Senate.
An emotional Barack Obama talks about the Connecticut elementary school shooting in this combo photo. (AP file photo)
While many Newtown families are pushing for better gun safety, including an expansion of federal background check rules, they have called for a broad response. The group Sandy Hook Promise launched a program called Parent Together to draw on shared values to prevent gun violence.
"We've been emphasizing kindness not just as a catch-phrase," said Matt Crebbin, coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, who spoke alongside Llodra. Paraphrasing a lyric by the songwriter Leonard Cohen, Crebbin said: "We've been through a devastating experience and yet in the midst of those cracks, in the midst of that brokenness, you're seeing light of all kinds shining through."