7 years after Sandy Hook, the victims' memories still endure

Updated 6:21 AM ET, Thu December 14, 2017

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(CNN)They were pianists and painters, swimmers and dancers, budding readers, little brothers and big sisters. Then, in a flash of violence, their 20 bright smiles were snuffed out forever in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary that haunts the nation to this day.

Also stolen that chilly Friday -- just 11 days before Christmas -- were six adults felled by the same gunman as they refused to abandon their sacred trust to safeguard the smallest among them.
Seven years later, even those who have never set foot near Newtown, Connecticut, can conjure the scene painted by police of a first-grade classroom turned into a killing field. Can see the faces of anguished parents desperate for proof of life, then later, tiny caskets overloaded with stuffed animals never to be named.
Since the December 14, 2012, massacre, a new school has been built for the students of a town known, now and for decades to come, as a cradle of grief -- but also of untold love and quiet resilience. In that spirit, some survivors have pressed to the highest court in the land for changes that might thwart another nightmare like theirs. Others have refused to succumb to a cruel lie that mocks their eternal sorrow.
The 12 girls, eight boys and six women whose futures were taken that day will be remembered, always. Here is a glimpse of what we learned about them in the days after they were lost:

Charlotte Bacon, 6

Charlotte Bacon loved school, her grandmother said.
Charlotte was sweet, outgoing and full of energy, her grandmother told CNN affiliate WCCO in Minnesota.
    "This is tough. This is surreal. You can't believe this could happen," Irene Hagen told the station. "The whole family is just devastated, and we're all trying to come to terms with it."
    She said her granddaughter loved school and dresses. Her hair was a mass of beautiful red curls.
    "It's horrible. It's really horrible," Hagen told WCCO. "It's hard to believe that someone would kill children, innocent children."

    Daniel Barden, 7

    Daniel Barden loved riding the waves.
    Daniel earned his missing two front teeth, his family used to say. His "fearless" pursuit of happiness and life also earned him ripped jeans.
    "Despite that, he was, as his mother said, 'Just So Good,'" his family wrote in a statement published in the New Haven Register.
    Taking after his musician dad, he and his siblings -- brother James and sister Natalie -- formed a band. Daniel played drums.
    He loved to ride waves at the beach and make s'mores around bonfires with his cousins.
    "He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world," the family said.

      Rachel D'Avino, 29

      Rachel D'Avino was working on her doctorate at the University of St. Joseph of Hartford.
      She probably didn't know it when she died, but her best friend was about to propose.
      He had recently asked D'Avino's parents for their blessing, and he was planning to ask for her hand in marriage on Christmas Eve.
      That and other details about D'Avino's life were described in an obituary posted on the website of Munson-Lovetere Funeral Homes of Connecticut.
      "Her presence and tremendous smile brightened any room she entered," it read.
      Born in Waterbury, D'Avino received her undergraduate degree from the University of Hartford and her master's from Post University. She was working toward her doctorate at the University of St. Joseph of Hartford.
      D'Avino loved karate, cooking, animals, photography and her two younger siblings.
      "Her passion, however, was her occupation as a behavioral therapist working with children within the autism spectrum," the obituary read.

      Olivia Engel, 6

      Olivia Engel took art and dance lessons, played tennis, soccer and swam.
      Her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb; pink and purple were her favorite colors.
        Olivia's family posted a statement on Facebook with those and other details about their beloved daughter.
        "She was insightful for her age and had a great sense of humor. She laughed a lot and always lit up a room including the people around her. She was very creative and was always drawing and designing things," her family said.
        Olivia took art and dance lessons, played tennis, soccer and swam. She was involved in Girl Scouts and musical theater. She loved school and did well in math and reading.
        Her family described her as a "grateful child ... never greedy." Each night, Olivia led grace at the dinner table.

        Josephine Gay, 7

        Josephine Gay had just turned 7.
        Josephine celebrated her seventh birthday just days before she died. In one picture, published in various news stories, she's smiling with glasses on the tip of her nose.
        Josephine liked to ride her bike and sell lemonade in her neighborhood in the summer, The Wall Street Journal reported. The little girl loved the color purple.

        Dylan Hockley, 6

        Dylan Hockley's family said he loved to play tag with neighbors at the bus stop.
        Dylan and his family had moved from England to Connecticut two years before he died.
        "We specifically chose Sandy Hook for the community and the elementary school. We do not and shall never regret this choice," Dylan's family said in a statement. "Our boys have flourished here, and our family's happiness has been limitless."
          Dylan's family said he loved to cuddle and play tag with neighbors at the bus stop every morning.
          "He was learning to read and was so proud when he read us a new book every day," the family said. "He adored his big brother Jake, his best friend and role model."
          Dylan's parents also expressed gratitude to the educators who died with their son.
          "We cannot speak highly enough of Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, exceptional women who knew both our children," the family said. "Dylan's teacher, Vicki Soto, was warm and funny and Dylan loved her dearly. We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy. Dy