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THE NIGHT before, he had been so excited. Someone had said that wrestling was the off-season sport of choice for football players who wanted to stay in shape, to be ready. Jack Pinto wanted to be ready. He was six. He had a plan. So they were heading to his wrestling meet at Sandy Hook Elementary School. His mom was driving the family's Honda minivan. His brother, Ben, 11, was sitting beside her up front, thumbs dancing, eyes boring in on his Nintendo DS.
Wrestling wasn't for Ben. But Jack seemed unfazed by the sport's gladiator trappings: yelling parents, a single winner and loser for all to see, the intimate physicality. At a practice two nights before, in fact, a rogue shoulder had knocked out the second of his top front teeth; blood stained his shirt and lips. Most six-year-olds would pause. Jack handed the tooth to his coach and hustled back onto the mat.
Now, Thursday evening, Dec. 13, 2012, at about 6 p.m., Jack and his family were driving to his second meet—Newtown vs. Ridgefield. Jack—first-grader, 55-pound weight class—sat in the big backseat. Ben, preteen and thus strenuously unimpressed by little-brother activities, was along for the ride. Jack never could leave Ben alone for long, but now he had a specific question.
"Ben, what position do you think I'm going to play?" he asked.
Silence. Thumbs dancing. This was part of a constant theme for Jack: What life would be like after his seventh birthday. Sure, it was five months away, but seven was a big number in the Pinto home. At seven, Jack would be old enough to host sleepovers. Old enough for an iPod touch. He played flag football now, pickup games. But at seven he'd be old enough, at last, to play real tackle football on a real team, with a uniform, in full pads. Like Ben.
"What position?" asked the voice again, from the backseat.
"I don't know, Jack, a receiver, I guess," Ben said finally. "You're fast. You'll probably be a receiver."
Tricia Pinto pulled the car into a spot in the school parking lot. Jack's seat belt was off in a flash, and now he was standing up in the car behind his mother and big brother, hovering just over their shoulders. It was dinnertime in Newtown, Conn., and dark outside. He had a better question.
"Do you think I'm going to have what it takes?" Jack asked.
THE FIRST-BURIED of the Newtown victims began his life howling. This went beyond that first-gulp-of-air yawp, beyond the usual teething yell; when Jack Armistead Pinto and his mom were discharged two days after his May 6, 2006, arrival, his scream accompanied the family all the way down a long hospital hallway and out the door. In the face of each startled nurse and staffer who watched them pass, his father, Dean Pinto, was sure he saw the same thought: Those. Poor. People.