Anne Marie Murphy playground's construction begins

Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher at Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, was killed when a gunman opened fire in the Newtown, Conn., school. Her father, Hugh McGowan, said first responders told him his daughter used her body to shield the children. Photo Credit: Handout

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Construction on a playground honoring Sandy Hook schoolteacher and Katonah native, Anne Marie Murphy, began Friday at a New Jersey school.

The Sea Bright, N.J., playground marks the first of 26 projects in the tristate area designed to honor the victims of the December Newtown school massacre that killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders.

The story of Murphy, a special-education teacher, became a rallying point in the aftermath of the tragedy as the details emerged. Murphy, 52, died while shielding 6-year-old student Dylan Hockley from gunman Adam Lanza. Despite the effort, both were killed, and police found Murphy's body cradling that of her student.

Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, herself a teacher, said Friday that the playground, which also marks her community's recovery from superstorm Sandy, will help the town heal after a rough few months.

"For our community, this playground is more than just a safe place for children to play," Long said. "It's also a symbol for hope and renewal."

Firefighters' Mutual Benevolent Association, a 5,000-member national union, is spearheading the entire $2.1 million playground project, named "The Sandy Ground: Where Angels Play."

"While these parks will bear the names of the Newtown victims, they are dedicated to all children of violence," said union president Bill Lavin. "This is not just about Newtown. A massacre is occurring one child at a time in our inner cities."

New Jersey and New York will get 10 playgrounds each, and Connecticut will get six. Each playground will link the two tragedies with the shared name Sandy to create memorials for recovery and hope.

Lavin said each playground will reflect the personality of the child or teacher for whom it is named. Jack Pinto's will have a football theme because he was a New York Giants fan. Chase Kowalski's will have fitness stations because he competed in children's triathlons.

Others, still in the early planning stages, may incorporate a victim's fondness for a particular color, activity or symbol. Grace McDonald's playground will be decorated with peace signs, which she habitually drew on mirrors and windows when they fogged up. Catherine Hubbard's playground, to be built on Staten Island, will have a tire swing and be near a beach because of her fondness for sea animals.

Murphy's playground will include a climbing wall and slides hand-picked by some of the children in town. It may also include a dog run because of her love for her pet.

With The Associated Press

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