Sandy Hook: Tales of heroism, young and old, abound
A young girl is comforted after a shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., about 60 miles northeast of New York City on Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. / Melanie Stengel / The New Haven Register / AP
Written by Michael Winter for USA Today and The Tennessean
Stories of heroism by adults and children are emerging from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Here are a few:
School therapist Diane Day described how principal Dawn Hochsprung and a school psychologist, identified as Mary Scherlach, leaped from their seats and ran out of a meeting when they heard gunshots.
“They didn’t think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on,” she told The Wall Street Journal.
Hochsprung and Sherlach were shot dead in the hallway, according to news reports.
Sandy Hook’s lead teacher pressed her body against her classroom door, which did not have a lock, Day said. The gunman shot through the door, wounding the unidentified teacher in an arm and a leg.
“She was our hero,” Day said.
Parent Robert Licata told WABC-TV the gunman burst into the classroom of his 6-year-old son and shot the teacher without saying a word.
“That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”
First-grade teacher Kaitlin Riog said she was in a morning meeting when she heard what sounded like automatic gunfire. She then locked her classroom door and herded her students into the bathroom, where she locked them in and blocked the door with a tall storage unit.
“I felt that, in the time, I tried to be very strong for my children,” she told WABC. “I said anyone who believed in the power in the prayer, we need to pray. And those who don’t believe in prayer, think happy thoughts… I told the kids I love them and I was so happy they were my students… I didn’t think we were going to live.”
When police knocked later, she said, she told officers to slide their badges under the door, then told them to get a key to prove they were police. Officers then unlocked the door and took the children to a nearby fire department.
“‘I just want Christmas,'” she says her students told her. “‘I don’t want to die, I just want to have Christmas.’ I said, you’re going to have Christmas and Hanukkah. I tried to be positive.”
Teacher Laura Feinstein told WTOP-FM that she hid with students under desks and shelves after hearing gunshots.
She hurried two children into her classroom in the back of the school, locked the door and called the office. She hid with four students under the computer desk and shelves and tried calling 911 but had no cell reception. She then texted her husband.
“We just kept hearing shots and shots and shots. There were a lot of them, and I was just praying that someone would come and save us and we kept waiting and eventually they did,” said Feinstein, a reading specialist.
The students sensed it wasn’t a lockdown drill, she said. They passed time playing games “to distract ourselves from what was going on.”
Feinstein said the intercom was left on, and among the bits of conversation she heard she eventually heard a clear voice say, “You’re safe, we’re here, it’s OK.” She then knew that help was on the way.
Feinstein said the 40 minutes that passed before someone escorted her and the students out of the building “felt like an eternity.”