It’s difficult to know what to say because there are so many things to say. I want to write about gun control; I want to shame the politicians who allowed the assault weapons ban to expire and who subsequently have refused to stand up to the NRA; I want to write about all of the ridiculous arguments and slogans the NRA gun fetishists are throwing around to defend their deadly toys; I want to write about why Americans only seem to react to obscene events like this rather than to be proactive; I want to write about the fear and cowardice of the gun culture. There are thousands of thoughts and emotions spinning through my head, and I’d wager you’re feeling the same way.
We’re all still grasping for the right words to say about the horrifying massacre at the Sandy Hook School, and I will do my best in the coming days to verbalize so many of these ideas, but today I’d like to simply tell you about the heroes who were killed — these brave educators who put their own lives at risk to protect their children and in doing so made it possible for so many of those children to enjoy their “entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” as President Obama said during his emotional remarks on Friday.
There was Victoria Soto. At just 27-years-old (in her ebullient photographs, she looks like she could be much younger), Victoria still lived with her parents, Carlos and Donna, and her black lab “Roxy.” She had commuted 45 minutes every day to Sandy Hook where she had taught her “angels,” as she called them, for five years. When the call for “lock-down” crackled over the PA system, Victoria evidently tried to hide her students in closets and cubbyholes, but the gunman (I won’t include his name among the names of these heroes) entered her classroom and opened fire before she could find hiding places for everyone. Victoria leaped in front of her students, shielding them from the gunfire with her own body.
There were Mary Sherlach and Dawn Hochsprung. Mary had been the school psychologist at Sandy Hook for 18 years and, at 56-years-old, she was on the verge of retirement when she surely would’ve continued to pursue her simple passions: gardening, reading and theater. She and her husband Bill were married for 31 years and raised two kids, each roughly the age of Victoria Soto. 47-year-old Dawn Hochsprung was the school principal and took great pride in both her post, her school and her students, as evidenced by all of the wonderful photos posted to her Twitter account. Mary and Dawn were killed on Friday while attempting to subdue the gunman — each lunging at him with obvious and total disregard for their own safety.
There was Lauren Rousseau. From the time she was a kindergartener herself, her mother said she had always wanted to become a teacher, and finally at the age of 30, after having spent years in the trenches of substitute teaching, Lauren realized her dream just weeks ago of becoming a full-time teacher at Sandy Hook. She was planning to see The Hobbit with her boyfriend Friday night. She, too, was killed while trying to protect her students.
There was Rachel Davino. At 29-years-old, she was a teacher’s aide at Sandy Hook and aspired to attain the goal which Lauren Rousseau had just recently achieved. Clearly with an Italian name like Davino, Rachel loved to cook lasagna with her grandmother Nicoletta. You can probably envision that kitchen, with the sights and smells of a large, rich Italian meal — a scene that tragically will never happen again.
There was Anne Marie Murphy. Taking on perhaps the most challenging track as an educator, Anne Marie was a special education teacher, in addition to being a mother of four children of her own. Friends and relatives described Anne Marie as a gifted artist — a “happy” soul with a quick wit. And like too many of her colleagues, Anne Marie was discovered with her students in a “shielding position.” She had used her own body as a human shield to protect them, and authorities told her 86-year-old father that she died a hero.
And they all did.
There were also so many other heroes at Sandy Hook who survived. There was Kaitlin Roig, who rushed her 15 students into a bathroom and blocked the door. There was Maryann Jacob, a clerk who worked in the library and rescued a group of students by hiding them an a nearby storage locker. The entire staff, including the custodian who ran from room to room alerting the classrooms of the intruder, played at role in protecting these children.
Our teachers give us so much. They shape our understanding of the world, and we’ve all been blessed at one time or another to have a teacher who inspired us to discover more about life beyond our classroom walls — so many of them have in fact motivated us to pursue our life’s work. They’re not as well compensated or as famous as other people who we often define as heroic, but they’re indispensable heroes nevertheless. And these brave teachers at Sandy Hook have not only served their students in this capacity, but they, like so many other true heroes, fulfilled and personified the well-known quote from the Talmud: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”