School Climate & Safety

As Details of Conn. School Shooting Emerge, Nation Reels

By Nirvi Shah — December 15, 2012 6 min read
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Connecticut state police said today that evidence found at Sandy Hook Elementary and a related crime scene will explain how and why a gunman killed 20 young students and six staff members at the Newtown, Conn., school Friday morning.

UPDATE 4:50 p.m. Eighteen of the victims were described as female; eight were male. Aside from the gunman, 26 people died at the school, CNN reported. CBS News published this list of the victims.

The Victims
We will update this list with additional photos and information as they become available.

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47
School Principal

Mary Sherlach, 56
School Psychologist

Victoria ‘Vicki’ Soto, 27
First Grade Teacher

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Olivia Engel, 6

Jesse Lewis, 6

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel Davino, 29
Josephine Gay, 7
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
James Mattioli, 6
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Jack Pinto, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Source: Connecticut State Police

The suspected shooter, which news reports have identifed as 20-year-old Newtown resident Adam Lanza, killed himself at the scene. Police said law enforcement did not fire their weapons at the 600-student K-4th grade campus in the 5,500-student Newtown district. Lanza had forced his way in, state police said.

UPDATE 4:10 p.m. The state medical examiner said all of the children and school staff have been identified and their names will be released shortly.

Most of the children killed were 1st graders, Chief Medical Examiner H. Wayne Carver II said. And all of the child and adult victims were hit by rounds from a rifle more than once, although Lanza apparently had other weapons, too.

The “goal was to get the kids out and get them to the funeral directors first,” Carver said of his priorities in identifying the youngest victims of the deadliest K-12 school shooting in American history.

He expected to complete autopsies of the shooter and his mother, killed at a home before the gunman arrived at Sandy Hook, by Sunday.

Any connection between the shooter and the school was unclear. State police and school district officials said Saturday that initial reports that Lanza’s mother was a teacher at the school were wrong.

Remembering Staff, Students

Among members of the Sandy Hook staff who were killed were well-loved Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who were both described as devoted to their students. An excerpt from the New York Times:

Ms. Hochsprung organized festive days she called Wacky Wednesdays, when students were encouraged to wear goofy clothes that did not match. She had students dress up as their favorite storybook characters, and she was known for dressing up herself. Sometimes, she brought her poodle to school. She was no distant authority figure. Ms. [Diane] Licata said her young children, who often skimped on details of their days, regularly came home with stories of what Ms. Hochsprung had done that day. But for all the levity, Ms. Hochsprung also took education very seriously. She was the one who distributed long articles to colleagues about policy debates in Washington and highlighted news from the latest speech by Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.

And last month, Hochsprung, 47, tweeted a picture of her staff. “Sandy Hook 3rd grade teachers work with Teachers College staff developer on teaching the science of using Post-Its,” wrote the principal, who was known for her tech savvy.

UPDATE 4:15 p.m. A woman who answered the phone at the Newtown school district said Sandy Hook classes are canceled early next week and the district is working to find a new location for the students. The district is still deciding when or whether to resume classes at other district schools.

In October, Hochsprung tweeted that the school had successfully completed a safety evacuation drill.

A friend of Sherlach, who was 56, told the Times, that she was going to retire at the end of this school year from a job she’d done for her entire career.

A recent story in the Newtown Bee conveys Hochsprung’s concern for the safety of her students. For example, though it wasn’t required by any law, school bus drivers who arrived at stops where no adult or older sibling was present brought younger children back to school at her request, instead of dropping them off alone.

Another piece in the newspaper described Sandy Hook’s use of Responsive Classroom, a social and emotional learning program. It reminds students of to invoke the CARES acronym—Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy, and Self-control.

Ms. Hochsprung said the model also helps students feel more secure in areas of their day that may have less structure and adult oversight. "When we can have our entire school founded on one philosophy that helps kids understand what the expectations are across the board, and every other person holds each other accountable to it, children and adults, it really takes the edge off that lack of security kids could feel when things are less structured," said Ms. Hochsprung. As part of the CARES practice, Ms Hochsprung and Ms Hammond explained all students are greeted by name by both their teacher and each of their fellow students. "That helps kids walk into school and know that they are a cherished member of the community," said Ms. Hochsprung.

UPDATE 5:45 p.m. The father of one of the victims spoke through tears to the media Saturday evening.

“I don’t know how to get through something like this,” said the father of Emilie Parker, 6. He described her as smart, creative, and always toting her markers and pencils. If someone’s day needed brightening, she would make them a card or note.

Robbie Parker said was teaching his oldest child Portuguese, he said, and Friday morning, the pair exchanged their last words that way.

“She told me ‘Good morning,’ asked how I was doing,” he said. “She said that she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door.”

Staff Members Were ‘Super Heroes’

A parent of other children who attend Sandy Hook, Laura Phelps, told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien about the composure and courage of one of her children’s teachers. When it was apparent to her that a dangerous situation was transpiring in the building, the teacher told the students that something went wrong with the classroom’s whiteboard and that they would each have to sit in their cubbies and read quietly until someone came to help them. Phelps said her 1st grader was very calm when she found him at the firehouse, and the teacher had said something to the children that kept them totally unaware of the danger around them.

“They are absolute super heroes,” said Phelps, who has a son in 1st grade at the school and a daughter in 3rd. “They did everything possible to keep our children safe.”

A photo provided by ABC News shows a 2008 yearbook photo of Adam Lanza, the gunman media reports indicate is the person responsible for the shootings Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School.—ABC News/Getty

“When I see their face I want to say ‘Thank you, because I have my children’,” said her husband and the children’s father Nick Phelps. The couple planned to take their children to the Newtown school district’s intermediate school, where crisis counselors are scheduled to be available all weekend.

Connecticut state police have outlined how the massacre began Friday. Emergency workers got the call about what was transpiring at 9:30 a.m.

Lanza did force his way into the school, state police Lt. J. Paul Vance said. And then the shooting began.

Sandy Hook 1st grade teacher Kaitlin Roig told ABC News that upon hearing the sound of gunfire, she rushed her young charges into a bathroom.

“I’m thinking that I almost have to be the parent, like I have to tell them—I said to them, ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it’s going to be okay’,” she said, “because I thought that was the last thing we were ever going to hear.”

President Barack Obama devoted his entire weekly address to the Friday shootings.

“This weekend,” he said, “Michelle and I are doing what I know every parent is doing: holding our children as close as we can and reminding them how much we love them. There are families in Connecticut who can’t do that today, and they need all of us right now.”

UPDATE 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening, the White House said the president will travel to Newtown to meet with the families first responders. The president is scheduled to speak at an interfaith vigil at 7 p.m. Sunday.

UPDATE 5:20 p.m. In a brief message Saturday evening, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy offered a message of hope, strength, and thanks.

“Those educators and those innocent little boys and girls were taken from their families far too soon,” he said. “Let us all hope and pray those children are now in a place where that innocence will forever be protected.”

Join Education Week‘s discussion about the tragedy.

Education Week staff writer Jackie Zubrzycki and Online News Production Manager Stacey Hollenbeck contributed to this report.

Stay tuned to this blog and @Rulz4Engagement and @NirviShah on Twitter. Email

Photo: A U.S. flag flies at half-staff as the sun rises on Saturday in Newtown, Conn., the morning after a gunman opened fire inside a nearby elementary school.—Julio Cortez/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.