Newtown’s heroic educators should never be forgotten

Five days after the horrific massacre of children and staff at a Connecticut elementary school, there is still quite a bit we don’t know – and may never know – starting with the exasperating “Why?”

But as news reports continue to filter out of Newtown, a community of 27,000 people roughly 12 miles east of Danbury, we now know enough to say this:

The six educators who lost their lives on that tragic Friday morning died heroically in trying to protect the lives of the children they loved.

As School Superintendent Janet Robinson told NBC’s “Today” show the morning after the shootings: “A lot of children are alive today because of actions the teachers took.”

Based on police and news accounts:

• Principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, were shot and killed while confronting the gunman, amid some reports that the 5-foot-2 principal was shot while lunging toward him. Both Hochsprung and Sherlach had been meeting with a parent in a conference room when they heard the initial series of “pops” and went running toward the shooter.

• First-grade teacher Victoria Soto, 27, was killed after trying to usher her students into a classroom closet. When six of the frightened students got out, Soto positioned herself between them and the gunman. None survived.

• Special education teacher Anne Marie Murphy, 52, a 14-year veteran of the school, was found dead, holding the lifeless body of 6-year-old Dylan Hockley.

“We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died, but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy,” the Hockley family said in a statement. “Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed to her picture on our refrigerator every day.”

• Rachel D’Avino, 29, a teacher’s aide, also died protecting her students, unaware that her boyfriend intended to propose to her Christmas Eve.

• Lauren Rousseau, 30, the sixth staff member to die in the shooting, only had been a permanent substitute teacher at the school since November, a job her mother said made it “the best year of her life.”

Then there were the many acts of bravery committed by those who were fortunate to escape with their lives.

The custodian who ran through the halls, alerting everyone there was a gunman in the building.

The music teacher who escorted her students into a closet, held hands and hugged until the ordeal was over.

The library aide who, upon realizing her classroom door wouldn’t lock, blocked it with a filing cabinet, ushered her 18 fourth-graders into a closet, told them it was a drill, and refused to open the locked door until a police officer slipped a badge under it.

Soon, the talk will shift from what happened on that dreadful morning to what can be done to prevent something like it from happening again.

So far, these ideas include banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, as well as extending background checks to private gun sales. Some gun-rights advocates even have gone so far as to suggest arming teachers in the nation’s schools.

But before we go down any of these roads, we would be remiss if we didn’t call attention to the heroic measures taken by the teachers and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School – teachers, we suspect, who aren’t that different from many in New Hampshire who watch over
our precious children every day.