Debbie Fiske knows the pain of losing a child unexpectedly. Her daughter Taeya was 14 months old when she died two months after having intestinal surgery in 2005.
So Fiske, who, as Debbie Baer, helped UConn to its first Final Four in 1991, was hit particularly hard by the tragedy in Newtown Friday.
"I could truly feel what those parents were going through," said Fiske Wednesday night, before she went to work as the color commentator for WTIC radio at the UConn-Oakland game.
"That shock of something so quickly … just taken away. We had no idea. We put [Taeya] to bed that night, figured we'd wake up the next morning, and our day would go on. My husband's been having a tough week, too. It just hits too close to home for us.
"That shock. That there one minute, and not the next."
Before the game started at the XL Center, there was a moment of silence. The cheerleaders and pep band members formed a circle in the middle of the court, holding 26 candles to commemorate the victims of the shooting. The UConn players joined them.
"We send our thoughts and prayers to those in mourning," PA announcer John Tuite said. "Newtown is our town. Today, in the coming days weeks and months, together we will share the love and compassion to help us heal and build a bright future."
As the national anthem was sung, the three referees officiating the game stood together near the scorers' table. One, Fatou Cissoko-Stephens, wiped her eyes with a tissue.
"It's been … it's been such a difficult week," said Meghan Culmo, Baer's former teammate and the current SNY TV analyst for the Huskies. "I have a 7-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old. All of us feel impacted by this, but those of us who have children of that age … to see those beautiful little faces … it's heartbreaking beyond anything I've ever experienced.
"My son, over the weekend, was like, 'Mommy, why are you hugging me so much?'"
Like many in the crowd, Culmo wore green — a green sweater with a green and white ribbon pinned to it — to honor the victims.
Linda Muller of Plainville was at the XL Center with her daughter Hannah Ferris, who was there for her first UConn game. The tickets were an early Christmas present.
"She's in fourth grade," Muller said. "It really hit home with me. It could happen at any school. The worst part was the kids were younger."
Paul and Bonnie St. Jean of South Windsor sat in the front row Wednesday. They are season ticketholders. They have young grandchildren.
"Both our son and daughter-in-law are teachers," Bonnie said. "One is in elementary [school] and one is high school."
Paul works part-time at Carmon Community Funeral Homes, which are handling the funeral of Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, one of the first-grade victims, on Saturday.
Lynn Taillon of Bristol teaches accounting and law at Cheshire High School. She sat in lower-level seats with her 9-year-old son Jeffrey, who was also at his first UConn game.
"Coming from a teacher's perspective, a mother's perspective, I'm trying to turn it positive," she said. "At the high school level, we're making ribbons and selling them at Cheshire. I teach CCD. At the church level, I had all the kids in sixth grade write letters and send them.
"There was a lot of fear in the kids in the high school. On Friday when they heard about it, they just cried. Monday's atmosphere was very somber. Then they kind of pulled together and said, 'What can we do to channel all the energy?'"
When she left school Wednesday, there were some students and teachers in her room with glue guns, ribbons and pins, ready to make ribbons to sell Thursday. The money would go to Newtown.
"It's very tough," Taillon said. "But we're trying to do positive things to turn it around a little bit."