On Dec. 14, President Obama made a statement about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., saying, 'As a country, we have been through this too many times.'

When “Hero” Became Part of the Job Description for Sandy Hook Elementary Teachers

Dec. 17, 2012
Risking your life in the line of duty is something we typically expect of first responders, not teachers. But during the tragic Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were fatally shot, it was school staff who were compelled to step into the hero’s role to try to save the lives of their young charges.

When Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig huddled with her first-grade students in a classroom bathroom as a shooter roamed the school halls, she crossed a professional boundary she might not have on any other day: She told the kids she loved them.

“I’m thinking that I have to almost be their parent,” she told Diane Sawyer and ABC World News. “So I said to them, I said, ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much and that it’s going to be OK.’ Because I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear. I thought we were all going to die.”

“I don’t know if that’s OK ... [but] I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway,” Roig added.

Roig’s heroism is only one of the stories emerging about how Sandy Hook employees risked their lives – and in some cases, lost them – to protect their students. The Dec. 14 shooting claimed the lives of 20 children, the shooter’s mother, the shooter himself, and six adults who worked at the school: Rachel Davino, behavioral therapist; Dawn Hochsprung, school principal; Anne Marie Murphy, special education teacher; Lauren Rouseau, teacher; Mary Sherlach, school psychologist; and Victoria Soto, teacher.

Hocksprung and Sherlock lost their lives while running head on toward the shooter in an attempt to stop him. And while details are still emerging, it appears Soto and Murphy each died while standing between the shooter and their students.

“I think there are a lot of people who want all the teachers to know how much it means to them how much they care about their children,” Sawyer told Roig during their interview.

Obama: Staff Responded with Courage, Love

President Barack Obama also commended the teachers and school administrators for their heroic actions. During a Dec. 16 vigil for the victims’ families, he said:

“We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy – they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances – with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

“We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying ‘wait for the good guys, they’re coming’; ‘show me your smile.’

“And we know that good guys came.  The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.”

Obama added that this is the fourth mass shooting of this type during his presidency.

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law – no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

“But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that – then surely we have an obligation to try.”

Expert: There’s No Profile of a School Shooter

Amanda Nickerson, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, stressed that the Sandy Hook tragedy need not spark a conversation that such mass shootings are an epidemic and that schools are violent places that require extreme protective measures.

Instead, she said, “We need to focus on the tragedy of the situation and empathy for students, families and community.”

Nickerson added that there isn’t a “profile” of a school shooter and that risk-assessment strategies should be used to help determine potential safety threats.

“We do know that the study of school shooters has shown that almost all are male, and most have a history of loss, perceived failure or rejection, and mental health problems,” she said. “Given that there is no reliable profile, the recommended strategy is to use a threat assessment approach to assess the threat someone poses ... This involves finding out the threat a person poses (plans, means to carry out plans, etc.), risk factors, protective factors.”

For more information about mass shootings and risk factors, read Special Focus on Workplace Violence.

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