In the wake of yesterday's horrific Connecticut elementary school shooting—which left 27 people dead, including 20 children—investigators are still trying to make sense of the timeline of events, let alone any possible motives. Many stories have now emerged about the heroic teachers and staff who were able to protect their students—and that includes several adults who sacrificed their lives to do so.
Not all of the victim's names have been released yet (they are expected to be released sometime this morning), but at least three of the six adults who were killed during the tragedy have been identified as 47-year-old Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 56-year-old school psychologist Mary Sherlach, and 27-year-old first grade teacher Victoria Soto. According to the Times, Hochsprung buzzed alleged shooter Adam Lanza into the school after she recognized him as the son of Nancy Lanza, believed to be a substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
School therapist Diane Day told the Wall Street Journal that staff members had been in a meeting when the violence began. “We were there for about five minutes chatting and we heard, ‘pop pop pop,’ ” she said. “I went under the table.” Hochsprung and Sherlach both went toward the sound of the shooting: “They didn’t think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on,” Day said. "At first we heard a bunch of kids scream, and then it was just quiet and all you could hear was the shooting." Both women were reportedly fatally shot execution-style, like many of the victims.
Day said another teacher, who hasn't been identified, pressed her body against the door to hold it shut. She was shot through the door in the leg and arm. “She was our hero,” Day said. An eight-year-old student told CBS that another teacher pulled him from the hallway as bullets were flying by. "I saw some of the bullets going down the hall that I was right next to and then a teacher pulled me into her classroom," he said.
A cousin of first grade teacher Soto told ABC that she died trying to save her students: "The family was informed that she was trying to shield, get her children into a closet and protect them from harm, and by doing that put herself between the gunman and the children," Jim Wiltsie said. "And that's when she was tragically shot and killed...It brings peace to know that Vicki was doing what she loved, protecting the children," he said. "And in our eyes, she is a hero."
Music teacher Maryrose Kristopik told the News she barricaded her class of 15 kids in a cupboard, where she held them close and talked to them gently. “We hid in a closet, we stayed quiet, we held hands, we hugged,” she said. “I tried to talk to them calmly.” While they were inside, Lanza reportedly stood outside banging on the door and screaming, “Let me in! Let me in!”
First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig told ABC a similar story: she hid her 14 students (ages 6 and 7) in the class restroom, with some atop the toilet so everyone could fit, and then moved a storage unit in front of the door. She instructed them “to be absolutely quiet.” “If they started crying, I would take their face and tell them, ‘It’s going to be OK,’ ” she said. “I wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hall.”
The NY Times, Patch, The Guardian UK and Daily News all have profiles of Hochsprung, who was described as a beloved principal who was dedicated to her school. “She was not the kind of principal I remembered as a kid,” Diane Licata, the mother of a first grader and a second grader at the school, told the Times. “She really reached out to the students and made them feel comfortable with her. She definitely took that extra step.”
Katie Singley, who was friends with Hochsprung for eight years, told Patch she was a selfless and protective person: “Dawn, she was like your mother, your friend, your grandmother, your teacher, your protector, everything all in one,” Singley recalled. “She was the best person to have on your side.”
Friends and family also remembered Sherlach, who was preparing to retire after the school year. “When somebody had a personal tragedy in their lives that affected their children, then Mary would be a part of trying to help them come up with a solution for that child,” Lillian Bittman, former chairwoman of the Newtown Board of Education, told the Times.