Two communities 2,700 kilometres apart are mourning a vivacious six-year-old known for staging impromptu dance parties and writing affectionate notes to family and friends.
Ana Marquez-Greene was in her Grade 1 class Friday morning when Sandy Hook Elementary School erupted in a hail of bullets that killed 20 children and six adults. Her older brother, Isaiah, was in a Grade 3 classroom down the hall.
He made it out of the building. Ana did not.
Parents Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez find themselves seeking post-traumatic stress treatment for their son as they plan their daughter’s Saturday funeral – just six months after returning to their home state of Connecticut from Winnipeg.
The Marquez-Greenes had an outsized impact on Winnipeg in the three years they lived there, evident in the numerous institutions now in mourning – her church, her school, her dance studio, two universities and a slew of close friends. Ana lived half of her life in Canada and earned a reputation as a smiling, vibrant, little girl with bushy pigtails.
“This could have been my daughter,” said President Barack Obama when he saw her photo Sunday at an interfaith service for families of the Sandy Hook shooting’s victims.
The President’s visit made for an incongruous bright moment amid pit-of-despair days: He looked at Isaiah and said, “His ears are like mine,” according to Karen Schroeder, a family friend who has been in touch with Ana’s grief-stricken family this week. “The President acknowledged that Isaiah was better-looking than he is. Nelba said she agreed.”
The Marquez-Greenes moved to Sandy Hook when Mr. Greene got a job as assistant co-ordinator of jazz studies at Western Connecticut State University. The family bought a beige ranch-style home on Buttonball Drive in August, paying $277,000. It seems a perfect setting for their young family: a big backyard sloping down toward a small brook, a badminton net to one side and a neighbourhood full of children.
Friends in Winnipeg got the gut-twisting news on the road, in the car, in a dance studio last Friday evening. They’re still stunned.
Ms. Schroeder was in a hotel room in Fargo, Minn., away from home on a weekend hockey tournament, and had to tell her children that their friend had been killed. Nine-year-old Micah digested more details, sooner; for Abby, 6, it was harder – she and Ana had been close friends for years. They wrote each other notes. Abby remembers Ana reading the Berenstein Bears books to her. Ana had her first sleepover at the Schroeders’ house last winter after a day of tobogganing.
So school on Monday morning was difficult. “If Ana died in school, what’s going to happen to me in school?” Abby asked.
“So we had to assure them that our school is safe,” Ms. Schroeder said, “and that this isn’t the normal thing – that this was one bad man making a bad choice.”
To the untrained eye, Ana was timid and reserved. But she was a vivacious performer. Three years in a row, she took the stage at the 2,305-person Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg as part of her dance school’s recital. Last year, she was decked out in tap shoes and a glittery blue dress.
Both Ana and Isaiah played piano. A 48-second home video her parents have posted depicts a sibling duet: Ana counts them off and sings a hymn while Isaiah accompanies her on the piano. They finish, look at the camera and wave, and show huge grins.
The University of Winnipeg community held a candlelight vigil Monday night outside the Aurora Family Therapy Centre where Ms. Marquez worked. Mourners wore purple clothing and ribbons to honour Ana’s favourite colour. The university has set up a memorial bursary in Ana’s name.
Another vigil was planned on Tuesday evening at the University of Manitoba’s faculty of music, where Mr. Greene worked.