Dec. 17, 2012 -- The life of a young teacher's aide, one of 25 victims gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week, was just beginning to fall into place. She was finishing her doctorate, and her boyfriend was getting ready to propose to her on Christmas Eve.
Rachel D'Avino, 29, was a behavioral therapist who had just started working at Sandy Hook Elementary, according to her obituary published in the Waterbury Republican American. Just days before Friday's massacre, D'Avino's 27-year-old boyfriend, Anthony Cerritelli, had asked her parents for permission to pop the question to their daughter.
D'Avino's friend Lissa Lovetere Stone, 44, told The Associated Press that she met D'Avino in 2005 when the young woman began to work with Lovetere Stone's autistic son in Bethlehem, Conn., where D'Avino lived.
"I'm heartbroken. I'm numb," Lovetere Stone told the AP. "I think she taught me more about how to be a good mother to a special needs child than anyone else ever had. Her job didn't end when the school bell rang at 3 o'clock."
Police in Newtown told D'Avino's family that she had been a "hero" when the gunfire erupted, shielding children from Adam Lanza's bullets that killed 20 children, ages 6 and 7, before he turned one of his guns on himself.
D'Avino, who received a bachelor's degree from the University of Hartford, was completing her Ph.D. at the University of St. Joseph of Hartford's Institute for Autism and Behavioral Studies. One of her professors, John Molteni, said in a Facebook post that D'Avino was within days of completing her course.
"She was a paraprofessional working with a student with special needs, something she had dedicated her life to doing," Molteni wrote. "She had just completed her coursework to sit for her certification exam on Wednesday."
Molteni also posted that there would be a memorial mass at the University of St. Joseph Tuesday at noon. According to D'Avino's obituary, a funeral service will be held on Friday in Bethlehem.