In the face of adversity, many individuals jumped into action to save as many lives as they could last Friday during the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Amidst the flying bullets, teachers and students were actually the first responders, sacrificing their safety, and in some cases their lives, to protect their students and classmates.
During spontaneous vigils around the Newtown, Connecticut community, mourners honored the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary and remarked on the bravery of the children who survived the shooting.
In one of the most harrowing stories, 27-year-old Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook, rushed her students into a small closet when she heard the gunshots going off right outside of her classroom. When the gunman entered her classroom, she physically shielded her students from his rampage in an act that would save more lives that would have been lost. She lost her own life in the shooting. Her cousin said of the Eastern Connecticut State University graduate:
“It brings peace to know that Vicki was doing what she loved, protecting the children, and in our eyes, she’s a hero,” her cousin Jim Wiltsie said. “She lost her life doing what she loved. I don’t think she would have it any other way. She loved kids. Her goal in life was to be a teacher and to mold young minds, and that’s what she achieved, and unfortunately lost her life protecting those children.”
Mary Sherlach, who was the school psychologist at Sandy Hook, confronted the gunman in an attempt to protect the students. The 56-year-old’s first instinct was to run towards the danger, and in turn, she was shot and killed by the gunman. She was married to her husband Bill for 31 years and is survived by her two adult daughters, ages 25 and 28. Superintendent John Reed said about Sherlach:
“She was a friendly, smart, and loving person. If there ever was a person, by qualifications and personality, to work with children, to be a school psychologist, it was Mary.”
Principal Dawn Hochsprung was also one who stepped in the line of fire when she lunged at the gunman in an attempt to take him down. In honoring their fallen principal, many residents recalled that Hochsprung ran her school as if they were a family, offering support and complete devotion to the children and their families.
Jeff Hamel, the first selectman for nearby Bethlehem in Connecticut, said she “touched many of our hearts with her professionalism and love for her students.”
In what could be described as a miracle, music teacher Maryrose Kristopik, 50, moved her class of 20 students into a small closet and barricaded the door as the gunman yelled “Let me in!” She and the students survived the attack.
“I did take the children into the closet and talked with them to keep them quiet. I told them that I loved them,” Kristopik said in an interview with the Daily Mail. “I said there was a bad person in the school. I didn’t want to tell them anything past that.”
Another first-grade teacher, Kaitlin Roig, rushed her 15 students into a bathroom and barricaded the door with an old bookshelf. Roig, 29, told her students to be “absolutely quiet” as she tried to comfort them. On ABC News, she remarked that she had to “almost be a parent,” while telling her students she loved them and that they would be OK. She even refused to unlock the door for police:
“I didn’t believe them,” she said to ABC News, holding back tears. “I told them if they were cops, they could get the key. They did and then [they] unlocked the bathroom.”
Special Education teacher Anne Marie Murphy was found by first responders shielding her students from the gunfire. Described as “a light in the darkness,” she devoted her life to the one-on-one care of her “little angels.”
“She died doing what she loved,” said Murphy’s mother, Alice McGowan.
Then there were the children. There was the little boy who pulled his friends out of the class and past the gunman while a barrage of bullets killed his classmates. There was the six-year-old little girl who played dead among her classmates in order to survive the ordeal. And there were the countless other nameless teachers who protected their students the best they could.
We are thankful for their service, and we continue to pray for the grieving families and our shocked nation.