The heartbreak wrought by the Connecticut school shooter has reached into Minnesota, where the grandparents and other loved ones of 6-year-old Charlotte Helen Bacon on Sunday were getting ready to travel from Nisswa, in north-central Minnesota, to Newtown for the little girl's funeral this week.
"It's so huge, and it touched everybody's hearts because it is children," said Irene Hagen, who spoke of her granddaughter Charlotte's schoolhouse slaying as she and her husband, John Hagen, packed Sunday to head to Connecticut.
Their daughter, Charlotte's mother, JoAnn Hagen Bacon, attended Orono High and St. Cloud State University before moving to Newtown for her husband's job.
Friday morning, JoAnn called Irene in Nisswa, mentioning that granddaughter Charlotte's school was on lockdown and that she was heading over there.
"Later in the day, we found out Charlotte was one of the children killed," Irene Hagen said. "It's surreal; we can't get through it."
Charlotte, her 10-year-old brother, Guy, and parents JoAnn and Joel Bacon lived in the woodsy New England community known for its good schools. Charlotte was a peppy, very bright little girl who wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up, her grandmother said. She was precocious and strong-willed, too, Hagen said.
On the day she died, Charlotte had her heart set on wearing a brand-new pink dress her mother had bought. Her mom didn't want her to wear that dress quite yet, but Charlotte insisted. So JoAnn combed Charlotte's curly hair into pigtails and fastened them with pink bows.
"She looked so cute," her mother told the grandmother.
Charlotte and her family didn't know Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old man who first killed his own mother and then showed up at Sandy Hook Elementary School, wearing black fatigues and body armor and carrying guns. "He was a complete stranger," said Hagen, 76.
"You wonder what would possess someone at 20 years of age to be so evil, to do something like this to small children," she said.
Guy was at the middle school when the 20 younger kids, including his sister, and six adults, were fatally shot at the elementary school.
"This is something just so unexpected," Hagen said. "The magnitude of it is overwhelming."
In Newtown, Hagen said, residents were opening their arms and their doors to grieving strangers out of compassion, Hagen said.
"It teaches you that there is good in the world, too," she said.
Charlotte's mother, meanwhile, is left with one of her last treasured images of Charlotte: joyful in her new pink dress and white boots.
"I guess she was dressed to go live with Jesus," her mother would later say.
In a message delivered through Honan Funeral Home in Newtown on Sunday, family members wrote, "Charlotte has left a place in her entire extended family's hearts that will never be replaced. The family is profoundly grateful for the thoughts and prayers of the many friends around the world who have expressed their sympathies. They trust in the depths of God's grace and with confidence know that Charlotte rests in God's arms."
Visitation will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday. Charlotte will be buried in Newtown Village Cemetery. The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions go to Christ the King Lutheran Church, 85 Mount Pleasant Road, Newtown, CT 06470.
Joy Powell • 651-925-5038