It started with one face: that of sweet Emilie Parker.
Oconee County resident Susan Burger cried along with the nation -- and world -- on Dec. 14, 2012, as the tragic news unfolded that 26 lives in Newtown, Conn. had been taken in a mass school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Twenty of the victims, the children, were around the same age as her granddaughter.
The mother of two felt immense heartache as she listened to Robbie Parker, 6-year-old Emilie's father, speak to the media about the loss of his beloved daughter while images of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed first grader were shown.
She felt a connection to Newtown, too. Burger grew up about 60 miles away in the town of Vernon.
"They were six [and seven] years old, but they had personalities already. You feel like you know them."
Feeling moved to do something, the high school graphic design teacher with roots in art picked up her pencil and began the cathartic process of sketching.
She captured the little girl's eyes, button nose and precious smile. And when she drew the last of Emilie's golden locks on the 8X10 black and white portrait, she began to sketch again.
Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana Marquez-Greene.
"I just kept drawing and drawing," she said.
Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Jack Pinto. Jack is depicted with New York Giants temporary tattoos on his face and hand.
As Burger turned the pages of her portfolio filled with copies of the portraits, she recalled having studied all of the children's photographs that she could find in detail, carefully electing to draw the ones that evoked a sense of happiness. She worked on the project over the Christmas holidays, devoting a full day to each.
"Christmas can be all about parties and gifts and this and that," she remarked. "But you have to think what Christmas is really all about, and giving back was really good."
Burger's been commissioned to draw portraits many times before, and also enjoys sketching photos of her family. Usually drawing is a joyful experience for her, but that wasn't the case as she drew the victims. She described it as troubling at times.
Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.
"They were six [and seven] years old, but they had personalities already," she said. "You feel like you know them."
Charlotte Bacon loved pink, Burger noted, so that's the color of the girl's hair bow in the portrait of the child. In fact, it's the only splash of color in the portfolio.
"The more I drew, the more I would think, 'what could she have been doing right now?'" she said.
When all twenty portraits of the children were complete, Burger turned her attention to the educators who died that awful day and sketched their images.
She posted photos of the portraits to her Facebook page, and was able to use the social media site to connect with a contact in Newtown to whom she mailed the portraits last week.
They arrived Friday, she said, and will be distributed to the families of the victims.
Her fingertips lightly stroked the album.
"I hope they like them," she added.
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