Family of Sandy Hook victim Jessica Rekos grapples with grief: Not 'one moment we aren't thinking of her’

Every year, the Rekos family braces themselves for the inevitable. The loss of their 6-year-old daughter, Jessica, causes a “terrible ache” daily, but as December approaches, the trauma is magnified. 

They remember the happiness that led up to Dec. 14, 2012 – going on vacation to Florida, trick-or-treating, meeting Santa Claus at the mall. Then comes the inexpressible grief, violence, and trauma that enveloped their lives. 

“We were such a normal, happy family in our 'before' life,” Rich and Krista Rekos, Jessica’s parents, said in a recent interview conducted via email.

This December marks the 10th year since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that killed first-grader Jessica Rekos, 19 of her classmates and six educators. The unfairness of her death still weighs heavily on her family who yearn for the life she was supposed to have. 

“We cannot fathom that we have lived without Jessica for 10 years,” her parents said. “There isn't one moment that we aren't thinking of her.”  

Jessica was one of those kids who seemed older than she was, her mother said, adding that her friends would often say after conversations with her daughter that it felt as if they were talking to an adult. She was funny — her humor only outmatched by her father’s — and had a magnetic personality.

She loved horseback riding, swimming, taking walks, riding her bike, playing with her little brothers, going to the movies, and getting her nails painted. Her parents described her as "a typical little girl who brought so much laughter, energy, and happiness to our family."

Until recently, the family operated a foundation in Jessica’s name, a way to help them navigate their grief. The foundation raised money for dozens of children to take horseback riding lessons and attend horseback riding camp, contributed to the research and conservation of Orca whales, and provided funding to several area schools to make security improvements.

“We have spent a lot of time being tortured by the realization that something as simple as a locked classroom door or hardened entryway could have prevented the tragedy,” her parents said.

Jessica’s parents have formed deep friendships with some of the other victims' families, who’ve helped each other navigate the “horrific” trauma and loss that has bonded them together. “We always say we're so sorry for the reason we're friends, but we're so grateful that we have this completely unfiltered, genuine relationship where we just 'get' each other, ” the couple said.

The couple has four other children, two of whom “will never truly know what a great big sister” Jessica was and their lives now revolve around their happiness and trying to allow them to have as normal a life as possible. They don't want that “monster” to take anything more from their family, they said.

They are still learning to live without Jessica. Some days their grief is too heavy to carry. Other days it's a little lighter. An “excruciating piece” of that grief has been telling their children what happened to their big sister — a conversation they’ve had with their two oldest children but not yet with their younger two. “Injecting trauma into their innocent lives by letting them know what happened to their sister is heartbreaking,” they said.

The couple said they briefly thought about leaving Newtown after the tragedy. “The people and organizations taking advantage of the tragedy were sickening,” they said. “While we saw the best in humanity in the days following the murders, we also saw terrible acts of greed, entitlement, and opportunism that continue to this day.” 

Ultimately, they decided to stay because the town is where they both we both grew up. “It is our home, and it was Jessica's home too,” they said.