ALACHUA COUNTY, Fla. - The families and friends of the 20 students and six educators killed when a gunman blasted his way into a Newtown, Conn., elementary school are on a long road to healing, and some specially trained animals from the Gainesville area will be on hand early next year to help with that recovery.
Magic and Wokanda are two of three of more than 30 American miniature horses regularly used for therapy which will make the trip to Connecticut. They are owned by volunteers who run the Alachua non-profit Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses and often travel the region helping people in need.
"They're gentle. The kids all get to pet them. They all can get their picture taken with them," said Sally Anfinsen, on of Gentle Carousel's volunteers.
Families and organizations in Newtown asked Gentle Carousel to come up to try to help children, families and first responders get back on their feet. They'll leave this weekend for Connecticut.
"When you get a request like that, you just can't say no," said Jorge Garcia-Bengochea of Gentle Carousel.
"It's going to be challenging for all of us. I think just to get through that and try to be happy and be positive," Anfinsen said. "(We'll) bring miniature horses and not monsters into their school and just brighten it up."
It anything can make someone feel better, it's miniature horses like Magic, who has a long list of national accolades, including one of TIME Magazine's Top 10 Most Heroic Animals in History. Magic has helped children with cancer all across North Florida. She once helped a man come out of a coma hours before he died and a woman who hadn't spoken in three years.
"We brought Magic in and the lady sat up and she exclaimed, 'Oh, it's a horse' and she started talking," Garcia-Bengochea said. "She was very excited and she got out of her chair and she said 'It's a beautiful horse' and she's been talking ever since. And that's the sort of connection Magic seems to have with people."
It's this type of horse-human connection volunteers hope she and Wokanda can have with children in Newtown -- kids in so much need of a loving hero.