12/16/13 — Photos honor Sandy Hook victims

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Photos honor Sandy Hook victims

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on December 16, 2013 1:46 PM

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Harley Marie Haley stands beside the name of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

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Gabriel Willis holds up the name of Dylan Hockley, one of the victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

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Brenna Wolfe

A year after a gunman tore a hole in the heart of a small Connecticut town, people across the country have been trying to let them know they haven't been forgotten.

In Goldsboro, photographer Brenna Wolfe heard the nationwide call to perform 26 acts of kindness in memory of the 20 children and six adults who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and decided that she could best help honor them by helping other parents capture memories of their own children through photographs.

"I was thinking about what I could do for my acts of kindness and it hit me," she said. "All these parents have left of their children are their photos."

Mrs. Wolfe decided to offer free photo sessions to 26 families, with one caveat: They had to hold up a chalkboard with a victim's name for one photo.

About half of the families responded and she spent the next few months photographing the families in between her nursing shifts.

Christy Straughan-Haley and her daughter Harley Marie, 8, met Mrs. Wolfe at her parent's ranch for their photo shoot.

"I remember when I got the invitation," Mrs. Straughan-Haley said. "I'm an educator myself and the shooting was a humbling experience. I told my children on the day why it's important to listen to their teachers. I told them that when it's OK, your teacher will explain what's going on."

Even at 8 years old, Harley Marie knew why she was holding that chalkboard with "Charlotte 6" written on it. Still, she had fun at the session.

"(Mrs. Wolfe) told us to let her dress herself and she wanted to wear high-top sneakers," Mrs. Straughan-Haley said. "She got to run and jump. I let her pick out whatever she wanted to wear."

Shelly Willis went with her daughter Arwen, 8, and son Gabriel, 6.

"As a parent I could not begin to imagine what the other parents were going through," Mrs. Willis said. "For some parents only the photos remain."

She said that if she could help the families out by holding up those names she wanted to do it.

Mrs. Willis' told her daughter Arwen that they were holding up the signs to remember the children because they couldn't be with their mommy's and daddy's anymore.

"Gabriel was way too young to understand what happened, I told Arwen just a little so she would know why she was holding the sign up," Mrs. Willis said.

In keeping with Mrs. Wolfe's desire to let the children dress themselves, Mrs. Willis' son Gabriel showed up in a Batman costume.

"So my boy showed up in a Batman cape," Mrs. Willis said. "Those are memories I'll hold on to forever. It freezes those moments, having these photos."

When Mrs. Wolfe began the process she didn't know what she would do with the photos.

Finally she decided to bind them into a book and send it to one of the victim's families.

She planned to draw a name out of a hat but ended up coming back to one child in particular, Dylan Hockley, 6, a special-needs child who died in the arms of his teacher assistant, Anne Marie Murphy, who also died.

"I kept coming back to his picture," she said. "His big blue eyes reminded me so much of my son, Wesley."

The book was delivered to the family's home in Sandy Hook on Thursday.

"I just want them to know people are still thinking about them," she said.