Rachel Marie D’Avino, age 29, a behavioral therapist at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Rachel was attempting to save the lives of her students in one of the classrooms where events took a sudden and irreversible turn toward darkness, the worst side of human experience being exposed for all  the world to see and regard with horror. The real terror comes from knowing that it could have happened anywhere, but on that fateful day, it happened in an unimaginable way to 27 students, teachers, and the mother of the gunman himself.

Rachel was one of the Sandy Hook teachers about whom President Obama said, “We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying, ‘wait for the good guys, they’re coming…show me your smile[s]‘.”Why did it happen? There are many reasons for the confluence of events which took place that day. The gunman was 20 years old, an obviously troubled youth with a history of anti-social tendencies. Perhaps there were steps that could have been taken to prevent such a tragedy, but none among us have the presence of mind to always know how and when these things can and will happen.

Rachel was a loving, caring teacher who had much to give to her students. She was born on July 17, 1983 in Waterbury, Connecticut. Her mother was Mary Carmody D’Avino and her father was Ralph D’Avino. She graduated from Nonnewaug High School in 2001, and later received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Hartford, a master’s degree from Post University, and when she was killed she was studying to receive her Ph.D from St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford. Just the week before her death, she had completed her course work to become a board certified behavioral analyst. Rachel had a real way about her. She possessed a smile that could light up a room the moment she entered. She had many interests beyond work. She loved animals, cooking, photography and karate. She was the oldest of three children, and she cherished her younger sisters, treating them as if they were her own children. When it came to work, she was passionate about her role as a behavioral therapist working primarily with autistic children. How ironic it is that the person who ended her life was possibly suffering from the same affliction that Rachel understood. Her own professional life was devoted to helping those with autism lead happy, healthy lives. Rachel’s chosen profession gave her an acute awareness of the problems anyone with this disorder faces in their daily lives, and a unique perspective regarding the patience and forgiveness it takes to help those suffering from autism. She likely would have forgiven the perpetrator for his actions had she lived to discover that he may have been suffering from autism. That’s who Rachel was, and her memory serves as a reminder that there are people in this world who may look past the failures of others into a deeper sense of who and what they really are.

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