Sandy Hook educators died trying to save the children
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Teachers tried to shield children in the line of fire with their own bodies.
The school principal and school psychologist sprinted from a meeting to try to stop the gunman. A woman who, relatives said, was born to be a teacher gave her life doing what she loved.
When shots rang out at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday, educators and school staff faced danger, clearly motivated by one overriding concern: The children.
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Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung lost her life lunging at the gunman in an attempt to overpower him, Newtown officials said.
Hochsprung's pride in Sandy Hook Elementary was clear. She regularly tweeted photos from her time as principal there, giving indelible glimpses of life at a place now known for tragedy. Just this week, it was an image of fourth-graders rehearsing for their winter concert; days before that, of the tiny hands of kindergartners exchanging play money at their makeshift grocery store.
She viewed her school as a model, telling The Newtown Bee newspaper in 2010 that "I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day."
She had worked to make Sandy Hook a place of safety, too, and in October, Hochsprung, 47, shared a picture of the school's evacuation drill with the message "Safety first."
When the unthinkable came, she was ready to defend.
Diane Day, a therapist at the school, told The Wall Street Journal that she was in a meeting with Hochsprung about 9:30 a.m. when they heard shots. Hochsprung and a school psychologist ran toward the sound of the gunfire, Day said.
"She had an extremely likable style about her," said Gerald Stomski, first selectman of Woodbury, where Hochsprung lived and had taught. "She was an extremely charismatic principal while she was here."
A month ago, she dressed up as the Sandy Hook Book Fairy -- wearing a crown and a dress that lighted up -- to inspire first-graders to read.
"She was always enthusiastic, always smiling, always game to do anything," said Kristin Larson, the former secretary of the school's PTA. "When I saw her at the beginning of the school year, she was hugging everyone."
"She was an educator," Larson said, her voice choked with emotion as she spoke by phone. "She wanted them to do well in school, but she also wanted them to have fun."
Hochsprung was married to George Hochsprung, and is the mother of two daughters and three stepdaughters, according to a 2010 article in the Newtown Bee. She became Sandy Hook's principal in 2010. Before that, she had worked for 12 years as an administrator in public schools.
Lynn Wasik, whose daughter attends Sandy Hook, said Hochsprung could often be seen crouching down to speak to her students at eye level. "She connected with the children," Wasik said.
Friday morning, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, threw herself into the danger.
Janet Robinson, the superintendent of Newtown Public Schools, said Sherlach and the school's principal ran toward the gunman.
Even as Sherlach neared retirement, her job at Sandy Hook was one she loved. Those who knew her called her a wonderful neighbor, a beautiful person, a dedicated educator.
Her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, told the South Jersey Times that Sherlach rooted for the Miami Dolphins, enjoyed visiting the Finger Lakes, and relished helping children overcome their problems. She had planned to leave work early on Friday, he said.
In a news conference Saturday, he told reporters the loss was devastating.
"Mary felt like she was doing God's work," he said, "working with the children."
Lauren Rousseau had always wanted to be a teacher and was living the life she wanted when she found herself in the killer's path Friday.
Her parents said that the 30-year-old substitute teacher lived in nearby Danbury with her mother, and was a loving and hardworking woman who cared about the children she taught and was planning for her future.
"She didn't leave school at 3 o'clock or whatever and went home and forgot about them," said her father, Gilles Rousseau, of Southbury, Conn. "It was on her mind the whole night."
And that was because she was truly living her life's dream, her parents said.
"Lauren wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten," said her mother, Teresa Rousseau, in a statement. "We will miss her terribly and will take comfort knowing that she had achieved that dream."
Rousseau had worked hard to get to where she was. She got her bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut, where she had lived on campus, and had a master's degree in elementary education from the University of Bridgeport.
She had worked as a substitute teacher in Danbury, New Milford and Newtown before she was hired in November as a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook.
Her father said that she had trouble getting a full-time job and was so happy when she landed the Sandy Hook job. She also worked at Starbucks in Danbury and catered, he said.
Rousseau had two younger brothers, Matthew, 27, and Andrew, 24, her father said. Her father described her as a caring person, suited to her profession.
"She has a cat that she treats like a little baby," said her father. "She just needs to mother things . . . she mothers those little kids."
Gilles Rousseau also shared some of the family's ordeal of the family as relatives sent text messages and left voice mails trying to reach her Friday. Her parents had told several police officers Lauren's name Friday, as they waited for the news.
Confirmation finally came at about 1 a.m. Saturday when a Connecticut State Police officer, a minister and two counselors rang the doorbell and knocked on his door.
"They had confirmed her death," he said, choking back tears.
Gilles Rousseau said he called the mortuary where his daughter was, requesting to see her. But he was told he couldn't come because she had been shot in the face.
She beams in snapshots. Her enthusiasm and cheer was evident. She was doing, those who knew her say, what she loved.
She's also being called a hero.
When she realized there was danger outside her classroom, first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, 27, rounded up her students and hid them in a closet.
"She went into lockdown mode and got those kids out of harm's way and, unfortunately, lost her life doing so," said a cousin, James Wiltsie, 39, a policeman from Stratford, Conn.
Photos of Soto, known to her friends as Vicki, show her always with a wide smile, in pictures of her at her college graduation and in mundane daily life. She looks so young, barely an adult herself. Her goal was simply to be a teacher.
"She just absolutely adored being a teacher," Wiltsie said.
Anne Marie Murphy
Teacher Anne Marie Murphy, a mother of four children herself, gave her life for the children that were in her care, her loved ones said.
The body of the Sandy Hook Elementary teacher, who grew up in Katonah in Westchester County, was found in a classroom, covering those of children also killed in the shooting, said her father, Hugh McGowan.
"One of the first responders said she was a hero," McGowan said.
Amid their sadness, her parents recalled Murphy, the sixth of seven children, as a caring person who loved art and was devoted to her family.
"I'll miss her presence," her mother, Alice McGowan, said Saturday. "She died doing what she loved. She was serving children and serving God."
Saturday morning, the couple attended Mass at St. Mary's of the Assumption in Katonah, where their sorrow devastated the congregation.
The Rev. Paul Waddell said he was preparing to pray at the start of Mass. "But I looked up and saw a lot of teary eyes," the priest recounted. "They told us about their daughter, that she was a teacher, she was killed in Connecticut. So we prayed at this 8 o'clock Mass for all of them and for her."
With Mackenzie Issler, Chau Lam, Betty Ming Liu and wire services