LAUREN ROUSSEAU was a motherly type, yet didn't live long enough to become one. She knew she wanted to be a teacher before she entered kindergarten, and at the University of Connecticut, she was the surrogate mama of her dorm.
She decorated her tiny room with Christmas lights and tucked "Have a Great Day" notes under doors of her college friends - just because.
When Danielle Stein, her new college friend, had roommate troubles and was homesick, Rousseau insisted that she stay with her.
"It made sense she wanted to be a teacher and be around kids because she was kind of like a big kid herself," Stein, a speech therapist and Bucks County native, told the Daily News last night.
Rousseau, 30, liked the innocence of youth - something all the little children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have lost.
Rousseau's classroom was the first one that gunman Adam Lanza entered. Rousseau, a permanent substitute teacher, huddled with her 14 children, who clutched each other in fear. Lanza killed them all.
Before Lanza shot himself in the head, he took the lives of 20 children, all 6 or 7 years old, four teachers, the school principal and a school psychologist.
Jessica Rekos was one of the children. Her father, Rich Rekos, is a 1999 graduate of La Salle University. Rekos and his wife, Krista, sent the New York Times a description of 6-year-old Jessica, their firstborn.
"She started our family, and she was our rock. She had an answer for everything, she didn't miss a trick, and she outsmarted us every time. We called her our little CEO for the way she carefully thought out and planned everything. We cannot imagine our life without her," the Rekos wrote.
Jessica was a horse lover, and they had promised she could have her own horse when she turned 10. She wanted Santa to bring her new cowboy boots and a cowgirl hat.
She researched Orca whales after seeing "Free Willy" last year, and wanted to see one. "Thankfully, her dream was realized in October when she went to Sea World," her parents wrote.
"We are mourning her loss, sharing our beautiful memories we have of her, and trying to help her brother Travis understand why he can't play with his best friend."
Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist, was the eldest victim. At 56, she and her husband planned to retire to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York in a year. Her daughter, Maura, and her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, live in Deptford.
Sherlach and school principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, had heard booming gun blasts and shattering glass around 9:40 Friday morning. Lanza had fired a semiautomatic rifle to break through the school's glass doors.
Sherlach and Hochsprung bolted from a conference room into a corridor. They had no chance to stop Lanza. He shot them both with a rifle, before he turned to Rousseau's first-grade class.
Rousseau's aunt, Vicki Bomgardner Nagle, was headed to Connecticut from Lancaster County when she phoned her husband, Jim, Sunday.
"[Vicki] is driving by herself, and she told me she was struck that God took Lauren because she was needed as a shepherd to help all the little souls," Jim Nagle told the Daily News.
In Newtown on Sunday morning, more than 800 people attended services at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church. Eight children will be buried there later this week.
Jennifer Waters, who at 6 is the same age as many of the victims, but attends a different school, sat in the back of the church and asked her mom a question:
"The little children - are they with the angels? Are they going to live with the angels?" Jennifer's mother assured her they were.
In this small town of sorrow, at least one grieving parent recognized that the Lanza family could be in just as much pain.
Robbie Parker, who lost his 6-year-old daughter, Emilie, told reporters that he sympathized with Lanza's family.
"I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you," Parker said.
Others who knew the victims said if it could happen in Sandy Hook Elementary, it could happen anywhere.
"There is no safe place," Danielle Stein said. "I work with children, too, and I just can't imagine it happening. Those children who are living had to watch it and now have to live with it.
"I just can't imagine kissing a child in the morning and not seeing them alive ever again."
Wire services contributed to this report.