The familiar songs and sounds of The Lion King reverberate throughout John and Tina Socci's home in Auburn. As the fictional lions Simba and Nala play, 3-year-old Sydney Socci sleeps in a chair next to a bear that is triple her size. Pictures of her mother Katie Socci line the walls of room.
When John and Tina Socci received the phone call that their daughter Katie was missing in June of 2011, they never imagined this scenario in their own home. They say their parental instincts told them she was dead, which was confirmed, and what followed was two years of ups and downs legally, as the family tried to deal with their daughter's death.
"You just never knew what was going to hit you," Tina Socci says. "Because you'd wake up and think this is a normal day, but it was never a normal day...every day, something would come up, something would happen, even if it wasn't in the paper, we'd get a phone call from somebody saying something was coming up...it was just never never ending."
So on Thursday, when David McNamara surprisingly admitted to killing Katie Socci, the Soccis were more than relieved that the case would not go to trial, and that they would not have to relive the night their daughter died.
"We had been told it would probably last several weeks, involve many, many witnesses, graphic details, testimony we might not enjoy hearing...[the guilty plea] was a weight off our shoulders," John Socci says.
But, the Soccis say they were not afraid to go to trial, convinced that the case the legal team built was insurmountable for McNamara.
With McNamara's sentencing scheduled for April 23 (with the sentence expected to be 20 years to life), John and Tina Socci are looking forward to focusing on the positive aspects of Katie's influence on their lives...like Katie's daughter Sydney, who they have been taking care of since Katie was killed. They say, in the midst of the ups and downs of the past two years, that Sydney has been the light in their life.
"Without her, I can't imagine how much harder it would've been," John Socci says.
Two years older now, Sydney's grandparents say she looks just like Katie did at her age, and has the same "bossy" personality as her mother.
With Sydney as a piece of Katie still in their lives, John and Tina say the support from Katie's friends has also been key in helping their pain. The Socci Stiletto Stampede was started by Katie's friends Erin Colineri and Karrie Glatt, which benefits a nursing scholarship set up in Katie's name at her alma mater, Cayuga Community College.
"We've seen the worst of human nature," John Socci says. "But, we've also seen the best of human nature..and that goes a long way through getting you through something like that."
As her name is remembered in more ways than one, Katie's own flesh and blood in Sydney still sits in a chair next to a stuffed bear in her parents home, her innocent face looking up at her grandparents, who vow to tell her the impact her mother had on everyone around her, and hope to bring her up as well as they brought up their own daughter in Katie.