THREE teachers murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School all died heroes as they attempted to save their young pupils from a gunman they recognised as the son of one of the school’s kindergarten teachers.
Authorities have identified principal Dawn Hochsprung, 47, school psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, and 27-year-old Victoria Soto, a young first grade teacher, as three of the eight adults found dead at the school on Friday.
The teachers who sacrificed themselves to save their pupils
Dawn Hochsprung left a meeting to confront the gunman along with two other members of staff at the school
Twenty eight people died in the shooting rampage, including 20 young children between the ages of five and ten. The alleged gunman Adam Lanza, took his own life.
It has been reported that Miss Soto sacrificed herself to save her students – throwing her body in front of the young children.
When Lanza began started firing at the school in suburban Newtown, Connecticut, some teachers dived under tables – but the Mrs Hochsprung and Mrs Sherlach never hesitated, according to reports.
It is understood that Mrs Hochsprung buzzed Lanza into the school, bypassing the newly-installed security system – recognising him as the son of Nancy Lanza, a kindergarten teacher.
By that stage he had already killed his mother at the home they shared nearby with one of her guns and used her car to drive to the school.
Diane Day, a school therapist, told the Wall Street Journal that she and several other teachers were in a meeting with Mrs Hochsprung and Mrs Sherlach when the shooting began.
“We were there for about five minutes chatting and we heard, 'pop pop pop',” she said. “I went under the table.”
But the principal and the school psychologist ran toward the sound of the gunfire with complete disregard for their own safety.
“They didn’t think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on,” Ms Day said.
Rabbi Shaul Praver who visited the scene said that Mrs Hochsprung and Mrs Sherlach were killed in an execution-style.
Miss Soto, who had taught at the school for five years was described by one of her deeply distraught 10-year-old boy pupils as ‘really nice and funny’, was trying to shield her students and usher them into a closet when she came face-to-face with the gunman.
Miss Soto’s cousin, Jim Wiltsie, said: “She put herself between the gunman and the children and that’s when she was tragically shot and killed,’ Mr Wiltsie said.
“I’m just proud that Vicki had the instincts to protect her kids from harm. It brings peace to know that Vicki was doing what she loved, protecting the children and in our eyes she’s a hero,’ he added.
Jacob Riley added that Miss Soto liked to chew gum in class – something is not usually allowed for teachers. He said he often teased her about her habit – and she playfully teased him back.
Former school superintendent John Reed told the Connecticut Post that Mrs Sherlach was warm and cared deeply for her students.
“If there ever was a person, by qualifications and personality, to work with children, to be a school psychologist, it was Mary,’ he said.
She was married and half daughters in their 20s and enjoyed gardening, reading and the theatre, according to her school biography.
Mrs Hochsprung, who was happily married to her second husband after her first marriage ended in divorce, tweeted dozens of pictures of her school since the start of term earlier this year.
Friends and neighbours said it was immediately clear to everyone she knew that she loved her students and her school.
“I don’t think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day,’ she told a local newspaper recently.
Another tale of heroism came from an eight-year-old student who said a teacher pulled him from the hallway as bullets rang out.
“I saw some of the bullets going down the hall that I was right next to and then a teacher pulled me into her classroom. It sounded like someone was kicking a door,’ he said of the piercing sound of the gunfire.