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Newtown, Conn. — At 1:00 pm, the guests arrive: the grief counselor who held Veronique’s hand at the funeral, the family friend who purchased a tiny tie for Noah to be buried in, high school friends of Danielle Vabner, Noah’s 18-year-old half sister. Children race in and out of every room; they play Monopoly on the living room floor, jump on piles of pillows and sit on the couch, drawing quietly. Noah and Arielle were born within months of two other cousins, Ethan and Laura. Now, Ethan sits alone at the kitchen counter, eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese with green peas. When his mother, Victoria Haller, told him that they would travel from Seattle to Connecticut to visit the cousins after Noah’s death, he sheepishly asked her, “But one less?”
At the center of everything is Veronique. On her right wrist is a tattoo she and Danielle both got the day after Noah died: a small pink rose flanked by two angel wings with Noah’s name spanning the space between them, and his birth and death dates beneath. A torn black ribbon is pinned to her shirt, a Jewish mourning custom. She is wearing purplish pink lipstick and her short black hair is combed into puffy curls around her face.
“I hope it doesn’t look callous to some people, but I have to keep taking care of myself physically,” she says, “That is what Noah would want. He would want his mom to be the way she always is.”
She has the air of a person in deep, almost studious concentration; she speaks in a quick, deliberate clip. Some details — the order of events after the killing — seem out of grasp; she can’t remember which door leads to which room in the unfamiliar house.
The past week has been a “waking nightmare,” she says, sitting on a beige couch in the living room before the guests arrive. Daytime brings activity, and occasional numb relief. But at night, “I wake up at two or three in the morning and that is when I start to wrestle with the demons of the why, and the how. Did he suffer? Where is he now? Is he at peace? Is he happy? Or is he lost?” At these moments Veronique thinks of Noah as a child lost in a crowded mall, searching hopelessly for his family.
Veronique was born in Switzerland to French parents who raised her in Scarsdale, N.Y. She converted to Judaism in 1992 when she married her first husband, Reuben Vabner. Her second husband, Lenny, is also Jewish; he is originally from Brooklyn and works in information technology. In 2005, Lenny and Veronique relocated to Newtown from nearby Bethel. (They had previously lived in Westchester.) They had three children in tow: Sophia, an infant, and Danielle and Michael, from Veronique’s first marriage. Sometime in 2013, Veronique says, she plans to move her family again, this time to the Seattle area where much of her extended family lives. They will be taking Noah’s body with them.