No one smiled like Olivia Engel. The bright-eyed, brunette 6-year-old, who was killed last Friday in the Newtown school massacre, was all set to play an angel in her church’s nativity play that night.
“She was supposed to be an angel in the play,” Msgr. Robert Weiss told congregants at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on Saturday. “Now she’s an angel up in heaven.”
What does a little girl do? She plays, she races into school, she flashes her gapped teeth. This is childhood perfection—and it was all shattered in a matter of minutes on a quiet Friday morning. Olivia’s mother, Shannon, and her father, Brian, will never hug their little girl again. Brayden, her 3-year-old brother, will never get to tease his older sister as she gets older and prepares for dates.
“She had perfect manners, perfect table manners. She was the teacher’s pet, the line leader,” Dan Merton, a family friend, told a local news station. “Her only crime is being a wiggly, smiley 6-year-old.”
Merton said that on Friday, Olivia had been excited to get home from school and make a gingerbread house.
“She was the closest thing I felt like I had to a daughter,” Merton told The Daily Beast on Sunday. “Brayden is just now starting to become a little person, and it was very cute to see them playing together. Olivia would help her mother take care of him. It was so cute to see these two little siblings.”
That Brayden will not get to grow up with his big sister is perhaps what hurts the Engels the most, Merton said.
In a statement, Brian and Shannon said Olivia was a “precocious and completely endearing 6 year old. She loved school, and was very good at math and reading. She was creative, loved craft projects and art class, and loved participating in as many sports and activities as her mom Shannon could get her to—from tennis to swimming, ballet to soccer, Daisy Girl Scouts to musical theater, and her church’s CCD program, nothing was off limits for the little girl.”
Now the Engels, like so many others ripped apart by the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are desperate to make the time to honor Olivia’s memory and remember what they lost. Friends and family have set up a Facebook page to share their memories of the little girl, and the family has asked for donations to the Friends of the Engel Family Fund, so that Brian doesn’t have to go right back to work.
"The purpose of these first donations is to help the family get through the next few weeks a little easier,” Olivia’s cousin John Engel wrote on the memorial page. “To those of us who want to organize fundraisers and keep up the support, YES we will be meeting this week with experts to explore how we can make a more permanent impact both for this family and for the larger community.”
Kelly Morris, a friend, said that all donations made through a PayPal account would go directly to Olivia’s parents and brother.
For now, the Engels have pictures of Olivia to look at again and again: Sitting at a motorboat’s wheel, wearing a pair of oversized sunglasses, or packed safe and warm into a bright pink snowsuit—they all capture the precious girl her family remembers so dearly. Pink and purple were her favorite colors.
In a picture taken just a few weeks ago, Olivia is wearing a light-blue sweater with the word JOY written in red letters. “Beautiful” and “innocent” are the words repeatedly used to describe her.
The family’s statement also mentioned that Olivia led grace at the dinner table each evening. She “was a 6 year old with a lot to look forward to,” it said. “Her physical loss will be felt every day by those who loved her most, but her sparkly spirit will live on.”