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Family And Friends Mourning Tragic Death Of James Knapp



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Friends, family members, students, and even tenants whose lives were touched by the thoughtfulness and special attributes of Sandy Hook resident James Edward Knapp reached out to his survivors in calls and notes to The Newtown Bee and in social network posts, as services for the local educator were finalized this week.

Knapp, 65, was pronounced dead following a New Fairfield incident late Saturday night, May 7.

Newtown First Selectman Dan Rosenthal was among those acknowledging they were shocked after learning that local resident James Knapp was the victim of a stabbing.

Rosenthal, who was contacted by The Newtown Bee moments after receiving the news, acknowledged that the extended members of the Knapp family “have given so much to Newtown.”

“My sincere condolences go out to the entire family,” the first selectman said.

According to details provided by the Connecticut State Police, Troopers reported they were summoned along with New Fairfield officers to a Hillview Drive East residence at about 9:22 pm after a reported active assault. Upon arrival, the report stated Knapp was found with a stab wound and transported to Danbury Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Patrick A. Griffin (DOB 12/06/1962), the resident of the home where the incident occurred, was also transported to Danbury Hospital where he was later taken into custody by detectives from the Western District Major Crime unit. Griffin was brought to State Police Troop A and was charged with Manslaughter in the 1st Degree.

He was held for arraignment Monday on a $1 million bond, which was reduced by the judge to $750,000 following the arraignment. A pre-trial hearing is set for May 23, and court records state he had not yet made bail by presstime.

Knapp, who was a Tech Ed educator at Pomperaug High School, was the father of Newtown Legislative Councilman Ryan Knapp. Along with his wife, Gabriela, Knapp is survived by five children, two siblings, Gabriela’s daughters, his in-laws, and a large family that was said to number more than a hundred relations including aunts, uncles, and cousins spanning several generations.

Ryan Knapp spoke briefly to The Bee Sunday afternoon saying the family is devastated by the tragedy. He sent a subsequent statement to the newspaper along with obituary details that said, “My brother and I had just been with him as he came out to support one of my friends [Saturday] afternoon. The day he passed we had been talking about his plans to enjoy more time with his grandchildren and a motorcycle trip to see his sister in Montana.”

“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support from the many people who cared for him,” Ryan Knapp continued.

While he said he would not comment on this specific case as there is the ongoing investigation, Ryan said his dad, “always tried to see the good in people and didn’t want anyone struggling to be alone.”

“He would look past people’s faults and believed with support and opportunity people could turn it around. When asked why he continued to be there for some people after everyone else had written them off, his response was always that he or she ‘has a good heart.’ It’s so unfortunate that his life ended like this.”

Students Share Memories

Ryan Knapp said stories from his father’s former students “are particularly touching because I know how proud he was of the people they grew to be and all they went on to accomplish.”

One of those many students at Pomperaug High School was Eric Sacco, who now resides in Thomaston. Sacco told The Bee as a freshman, he took James’ Tech Ed class to fulfill a requirement.

But Sacco was so impressed that he returned to take a follow-up class the following year, became friends with Ryan and Erik who also lived in Southbury at the time, and soon became like a member of the family, occasionally accompanying James on hunting and fishing trips when other family members were otherwise occupied.

“He would talk to his students like they were regular people, if that makes sense. He treated everybody like an equal,” Sacco said. “That made him a really good teacher. He was also really hands-on. Most every student felt like they were his friend after they would have one course with him.”

Sacco said he was lucky to have spent some time with James and other members of the Knapp family in the hours before he left to connect with Griffin, a long-time acquaintance.

“If you knew Jim, you knew he was a great guy and always fun to be around,” Sacco added. “And you didn’t have to know him long — if you only met him for five minutes you’d get that warm, friendly feeling about him. He would always encounter people and treat them like a friend right off the bat.”

Billy Allen was also a student of James Knapp for two years and admits, “I learned more than what he taught in his classes.”

“He taught us more about life and being the best person you possibly could be. He showed myself how to really love and cherish moments as time goes by along with being supportive towards others around us as he showed during his classes,” Allen said. “He cared for each and every student in different ways. He was the key reason I graduated and who I am today as a human and as a teacher.”

Allen said Knapp was more than just a teacher; he was also a mentor.

“His delivery, sarcasm, and more importantly his overall kindness to the world around him showed how he was more than just a teacher,” Allen said. “Flash forward to now, I currently am a special education teacher in Southington for grades 1 and 2. With what Mr Knapp taught me in being a role model to others and someone that others can go to, I decided to make it a passion to have students come to me for guidance and support just like Mr Knapp did for me.

“By being someone who welcomes students of all disabilities and learning styles to my room I always will remember how Mr Knapp did that for myself and many others at Pomperaug. Modeling my teaching philosophy the way he did has not only made me a better person but has made my students better as well due to the students’ love for being in school and having someone to be around that will take care of them when times get hard. Just like Mr Knapp did for me. I pray for his family and I will always remember the impact he has made on my life,” Allen concluded.

The many notes of support on Facebook included sentiments from:

Tracey Allen Ludvinsky said she worked with Jim at Curtis Packaging and remembered him “as a kind, gentle soul.”

Michael Maguire said, “Words can’t describe how sorry I am for you and your family, Ryan. Your dad was one of the most accepting, kind, and full of life people I’ve ever met. I can’t recall a time that he wasn’t smiling. I know how proud he was of you and the life you’ve built, and know he will continue to watch over you and your brothers, sisters, friends and family.”

Conrad Phillip shared: “My fond memories of your dad are of his intelligence, tall stature and a playful colorful character who knew how to make everyone smile. He was so proud of his family and sharing his photos of his children.”

Current Council Chairman Jeffrey Capeci said, “your dad was a wonderful person and will be remembered as such.”

And Alex LaRosa shared: “Your dad was a great guy, I have vivid memories of him at Pomperaug, he helped me build a poker table and bookshelf I still have with me to this day.”

Outpourings Of Remembrances

Cousin Barbara Bloom, also reached out to express her sympathies and admiration, saying “Jim was such a great guy. He always had something funny to say at family gatherings and was such a popular teacher. He and Gabby were the perfect couple and did so much together. They had so much more to do and my heart hurts to think of his life ending this way.”

Jay Mattegat, another cousin and former Council colleague of Ryan Knapp, remembered James as being someone who would come to the aid of anyone in need — whether it was a family member, friend, or total stranger.

“I remember Jim growing up, and he would always step forward to lend a hand if it was needed,” Mattegat said. “He was an all around good guy, so when we got the call, it was unbelievable.

“More recently we would catch up at family reunions, where there would be hundreds of us there,” Mattegat added. “Jim’s grandmother Kate was a Hanlon, and there were 17 original brothers and sisters, so there are six or seven generations of Hanlons who came from town. This is such a tragic event, I’m at a loss as to what to say.”

Dan Wiedemann, former Legislative Council vice-chairman and his wife, Anna Wiedemann, were both friends of Ryan Knapp. They sent a message of support saying: Ryan Knapp and I became friends while serving together on the Legislative Council. Throughout that time Ryan would always share that “service to our Town is in our family DNA.” I did not know his father well but I know Ryan would look to his Dad for guidance. Our sincere condolences go out to the Knapp family.

Resident Sara Hayes, whose father Dennis was a childhood friend of James, echoed the comments of so many saying, “This is so heartbreaking for so many of us.”

Hayes said she had only heard references to James from her dad until she began boarding horses with his cousin John Bond, but then as she got to know him she, too, characterized James as a man “with a heart of gold.”

“He’d make anyone laugh, even through hard times. And as soon as he found out who my dad was, he made me feel like I was one of his own,” Hayes said, as her voice wavered.

“He would always tell me that my dad had a million dollars, and don’t let him fool you — one day I’ll tell you where he’s hiding it,” she recalled. “But I had to tell my dad I guess I’ll never get it because Jimmy never had a chance to tell me where it was.”

Tenants Mercedes and George Linebarger said they had known James for about three years, after moving to Newtown from New Milford. Mercedes was still shaken from the tragedy.

“I don’t know what it’s like having someone taken from me like this,” she said. “I am hurting, but I don’t know that kind of pain. This is hard on all of us.”

She and George said James was the kind of friend everyone wants to have.

“He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” the couple said in a co-signed note. “He always laughed and joked. I have only known him for a short time but he became like family to us and our kids. I still wait to wake up and it’s all a [bad] dream.

The Linebargers described James as “a wonderful man, father, and husband taken away in a senseless act much too soon.”

“Heaven gained a great angel, who I know will watch over his family and friends,” the couple concluded. “Jim will be missed by so many people whose lives he touched in such a special way ... soar with the angels Jim until we are all together again.”

James was born on August 13, 1956, in Danbury Hospital. A graduate of Newtown High School, he attended Southern Connecticut State University and received his Master’s from Western Connecticut State University.

His career was split between time in the printing industry, including a period at Curtis Packaging, before he became an educator and took a position at Pomperaug High School.

Family and friends may call from 4 to 7 pm, Friday, May 13th, at the Honan Funeral Home, 58 Main Street, Newtown. Graveside services will be held at 11 am, Saturday May 14, in Zoar Cemetery. After graveside services, all are invited to the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Department, 18-20 Riverside Rd, for a celebration of James’ life from noon to 5 pm.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the mikeroweWORKS Foundation Work Ethic Scholarship Program which helps people get trained for skilled trade jobs that are in demand. www.mikeroweworks.org/donate

James Knapp is pictured with his wife, Gabriela. — photo courtesy the Knapp family
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