MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In the days after Dec. 14, it was hard for Joel, JoAnn and Guy Bacon to imagine the day they’d be able to talk, even laugh, about their 6-year-old Charlotte. The feisty, smart, happy first-grader was one of 20 students and six adults killed at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school.

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“I’m pretty proud of us, pretty proud of us,” said JoAnn. “I miss her desperately and sometimes we have deep despair, but overall I feel we’re pretty healthy.”

On Tuesday, she and her family returned to her hometown of Orono, Minn. for a private memorial of family and friends. It was one the first times JoAnn has spoken in public.

“People ask us how are you doing and I usually answer with a shrug of my shoulders, ‘OK,'” she said, before a crowd of about 30 people. “It’s a valid question and one that’s asked with true concern, but I’m always left wondering when will my answer of ‘OK’ mean what it used to be.”

It’s taken time, church, incredible strength and a new perspective for the Bacon family to move forward. They decided to share their story because they wanted people to know that despite an unimaginable reality, they still have hope.

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“I think we have the energy now. Early on, we were just trying to get from point A to point B in the most healthy way and that took all of our energy,” said JoAnn.

The Bacons placed a leaf on the Orono High School’s Memorial Garden tree to remember all of the people in the Orono family who were taken too soon. It read, “Charlotte Hagen-Bacon, Class of 2024.”

“Over these past seven months, we’ve always kept hope in us that there’s purpose and there’s good things that are happening,” said Joel. “We have much still too look forward to with our son, Guy, and with each other. We have to remind ourselves of that.”

So, the Bacons were happy to announce the new Minnesota chapter of Newtown Acts of Kindness, a nonprofit to encourage and foster children to be kind. On Charlotte’s birthday, children were given awards for their extraordinary acts of kindness. That day was a turning point for the Bacons.

Joel, JoAnn and Guy also recognized Charlotte’s Challenge, a program started by Orono students to foster the same idea.

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“I don’t want Charlotte to be associated with that day. I don’t want her to be the face of tragedy,” said JoAnn. “I want her to be the face of something that’s positive, of hope, of inspiration and kindness and compassion. That’s what is important to me.”

Heather Brown