Mom often joked that her daughter was so full of life "she would talk from the minute she woke up until the minute she went to bed. We were always, 'It's time for bed, Grace. It's time for bed, Grace.'"
That Friday morning was like any other school day, a whirlwind of activity before heading out the door. She skipped down the road and boarded the school bus.
Grace blew her mother a kiss, as she always did. An endearing final image.
'Luckiest guy in the room'
Bear was one of two third-graders chosen by their teacher for the important job of class helper. The pair headed out of the room that morning to deliver an attendance report to the office.
As they neared the office, gunshots rang out. Bear said he could see bullets flying by. Smoke filled the air.
The two children froze, like deer in headlights. A second-grade teacher saw the children were in harm's way, raced toward them and grabbed them. She pulled them into a bathroom with other children and barricaded the door.
"If she didn't do that, I don't know," said Bear's father, Andrei Nikitchyuk.
Nikitchyuk and his wife were filled with anxiety when they realized the robocall was real. Rumors were rampant. Parents were panicked. Police were everywhere.
A Ukrainian native, Nikitchyuk came to the United States in 1992 shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He had always felt safe here and had been fortunate enough to live the American dream.
He settled in Newtown eight years ago. His two oldest children, ages 13 and 14, had attended Sandy Hook.
"It's just horrific," Nikitchyuk said. "I don't know how our little ones are going to be affected by all this, but our older ones, I think, matured in just a few days."
The father was spurred to action: "This horrific event woke me up." He traveled to the White House to speak up for gun control. He was the Sandy Hook representative for a Newtown United delegation that was joined by families who had lost loved ones to gun violence in the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Columbine and Virginia Tech, as well as random shootings in Chicago.
"I was the luckiest guy in the room because my kid survived and theirs didn't."
The group met with Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to President Obama.
Nikitchyuk's message: "This is unacceptable in our society. We have to do better."
Emergency plans and instinct
Kindergarten teacher Janet Vollmer heard what she believed were gunshots. Then, the intercom system piped in the sounds of gunfire into her room. The teachers were well-schooled on drills; their principal made sure of that.
Vollmer immediately began putting her emergency planning to use. She knew the drill was to get kids outside and to the nearby firehouse. But it seemed too dangerous. She had 19 children she needed to protect.
"There was no announcement of what was going on," she said. "My instinct was it wasn't good."
The teacher of 18 years gathered her kindergartners in a cubby area away from the door. Teaching assistants closed the blinds.
"We read a story and we kept them calm," she said. "We do this as teachers. We are trained. We have drills. We talk to the kids and in case something were to happen, this is what we do."
After about 30 minutes, she said, police knocked on the door. The children were told to close their eyes and walk in a line outside. She told the kids to look straight at the walls and nothing else until they got outside. They headed to the Sandy Hook firehouse, the school's emergency gathering point.
It would be hours before she learned the awful magnitude. She had taught 10 of the slain children just last year.
'The gift of these children'