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O.C. family with Newtown roots takes to fundraising

LADERA RANCH – Eighteen-year-old Patrick McManus' mood deteriorated from bad to worse last week as he sat transfixed in front of his TV watching images of the Connecticut school massacre.

Newtown was where McManus spent three years of his childhood, and Sandy Hook Elementary was where he once went to school.

Most harrowing of all, McManus said, is that if his family hadn't relocated from Newtown to Orange County a decade ago, his younger sister, 7-year-old Katie, likely would have been at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the day 20 children were gunned down.

"I can't imagine what they're going through," said McManus, a Ladera Ranch resident. "If this had happened to my own sister, I would be miserable – it would ruin my life. You have to count your blessings."

Rather than allow McManus to mourn helplessly in front of the television, his mother, Lisa, finally switched off the TV and encouraged Patrick and his three younger siblings to think about how to channel their grief into something constructive. Together, they decided to begin soliciting donations in their neighborhood for Sandy Hook families.

Patrick dug through a scrapbook from his Sandy Hook days and found photos of him at the school. His 12-year-old brother, Connor, who was born in Connecticut, attached copies of the photos to big manila envelopes that the family is using to collect donations.

Fourteen-year-old brother Jack, meanwhile, went door to door asking neighbors for donations.

On Monday, the McManus family began placing collection envelopes at their schools and at local businesses. On each envelope, they wrote a personal message explaining their connection to Sandy Hook.

Interest in the fundraiser has been overwhelming, Lisa McManus said.

"I've really been truly not surprised by the outpouring of support and good wishes we've received," said Lisa, a board member for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano. "I think people really want to do good. We live in such a great society; we've all been blessed."

The McManuses' fundraising blitz is just getting started. Family members said they don't know yet how much they've collected, and Lisa McManus still is trying to figure out how to get all of the donations to Sandy Hook. Maybe they'll even form a nonprofit group in the long-term, she said.

"It's an eerie feeling we're connected to Sandy Hook," Lisa said. "We don't like to be that close."

She moved to Newtown with her husband, John, in 1998. The couple had been living in Rancho Santa Margarita, but relocated to the East Coast for a job opportunity, she said. Patrick, their eldest son, attended a Connecticut parochial school for kindergarten and then enrolled at Sandy Hook Elementary as a first-grader in 2000.

After three years in Newtown, the family moved back to Orange County in spring 2001 and settled in Ladera Ranch.

Although Patrick attended Sandy Hook Elementary for less than a year, he said he remembers it fondly. He lived about two miles from the school.

"Sandy Hook is such a small, tight-knit community – I made some of my best friends there and I still keep in touch with them," said Patrick, who graduated from JSerra Catholic High School in June. "It was a great few years of my life."

Now a freshman at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Patrick was home on winter break at the time of the Sandy Hook shootings. He said he is planning to dedicate the remainder of his winter break to helping with the fundraiser.

"We know a lot of people there, and it feels great to just be able to help in any way possible," he said.

Lisa McManus said her family doesn't know any of the victims of the Dec. 14 shooting, but they still have many friends in Newtown and last visited just a year and half ago, when Patrick was on the East Coast visiting colleges.

"I'm just heartbroken; my heart goes out to everyone there," Lisa said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7802 or

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