One bright spot glows among the grief in Newtown, Connecticut - the stories of staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School who may have prevented further carnage.
School psychologist Mary Sherlach and principal Dawn Hochsprung ran toward gunman Adam Lanza after he broke through the school door. Officials say Hochsprung died while lunging at the gunman. Sherlach also died.
Another worker turned on the school intercom, alerting others in the building. A custodian ran through the halls warning of danger. A clerk led 18 children on their hands and knees to safety in a storage room with a lock. She then gave them paper and crayons to keep them calm and quiet.
Six female members of staff were killed
And a cousin of teacher Victoria Soto told ABC News that 27-year-old died trying to shield children from bullets.
District Superintendent Janet Robinson noted "incredible acts of heroism" that "ultimately saved so many lives."
"The teachers were really, really focused on their students," she told reporters.
After gunman Adam Lanza broke through the school door, gun blazing, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and principal Dawn Hochsprung ran toward him, Robinson said.
Hochsprung died while lunging at the gunman, officials said.
Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher, reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet and died trying to shield them from bullets
The 56-year-old Sherlach, who would have been tasked with helping survivors cope with the tragedy, died doing what she loved, her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, told the South Jersey Times.
"Mary felt like she was doing God's work," he said, "working with the children."
Just this past October, Hochsprung had tweeted a picture of the school's evacuation drill with the message "Safety first."
Victoria Soto, a 27-year-old teacher, reportedly hid some students in a bathroom or closet and died trying to shield them from bullets, a cousin, Jim Wiltsie, told ABC News. Those who knew Soto said they weren't surprised.
"You have a teacher who cared more about her students than herself," said John Harkins, mayor of Stratford, Soto's hometown. "That speaks volumes to her character, and her commitment and dedication."
In other cases, staffers both saved students and managed to escape with their own lives.
Teacher Theodore Varga said that as gunfire echoed through the school, a custodian ran around, warning people. He appears to have survived; all the adults killed were women.
"He said, 'Guys! Get down! Hide!'" Varga said. "So he was actually a hero."
Someone switched on the intercom, alerting people in the building to the attack by letting them hear the chaos in the school office, a teacher said. Teachers locked their doors and ordered children to huddle in a corner or hide in closets as shots echoed through the building.
In a classroom, teacher Kaitlin Roig barricaded her 15 students into a tiny bathroom, pulled a bookshelf across the door and locked it. She told the kids to be "absolutely quiet."
"I said, 'There are bad guys out there now. We need to wait for the good guys,'" she told ABC News.
One student claimed to know karate. "It's OK. I'll lead the way out," the student said.
Clerk Maryann Jacob was working with a group of 18 fourth-graders in the library when the shooting broke out. She herded the children into a classroom in the library, but then realised the door wouldn't lock.
They crawled across the room into a storage space, locked the door and barricaded it with a filing cabinet. There happened to be materials for colouring, she said, "so we set them up with paper and crayons."
One person who wasn't in the school at all also is getting praise for his grace: Robbie Parker, whose daughter Emilie died.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, he said he was not mad and offered sympathy for Lanza's family.
"I can't imagine," he said, "how hard this experience must be for you."
12/17/2012 4:43 PM EST
Details On Funeral And Burial Process
The president of the Connecticut Funeral Director's Association said the funeral and burial process for Newtown victims, which began Monday with the separate burials of Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, who both were six-years-old, is unlike anything he has seen before.
"I've unfortunately seen lots of kids who have died," said Pasquale Forino, 46, who runs Neilan Funeral Home in New London, Conn. "But this truly shakes your foundation to the core, and in a small town like Newtown, they need lots of help to handle this week of burials."
Forino and a group of morticians who have volunteered have driven to Newtown every day since Friday to help tend to families who are grieving and prepare arriving bodies for viewings and burials. The main funeral home in the town, Honan Funeral Home, is handling the process for 11 victims. Of those, Forino said he has worked on three -- all kids.
"It's not about me, it's about the families and victims. But it still affects us," he said. "We do what we can do to take care of the families. We'll deal with our own emotional needs later."
--HuffPost's Jaweed Kaleem
12/17/2012 4:42 PM EST
Officials: Local School Building Will Be Safe For Sandy Hook Students
Sandy Hook School students will be attending Chalk Hill School in Monroe, CT as an alternative education facility in the wake of the shooting. Monroe police answered questions during a press conference briefing about the preparations of the building for use by Sandy Hook Elementary School, and outlined how police officers will keep children safe and secure on their first day back to school.
12/17/2012 4:41 PM EST
Time to Rise Up and Say 'Enough' to Gun Violence
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, a New Jersey columnist urges people and politicians to fight for stronger gun control laws.
"Every time there is a mass shooting, we shake our heads and bemoan the tragic violence. We wonder aloud why our elected officials cannot stanch the flow of weapons. We rue the fact that there are so many troubled individuals out there, desperate for help and poised to commit terrible crimes, for no apparent reason. But nothing ever changes," she writes. "This holiday season, can we all rise up as one and say ENOUGH?"
12/17/2012 1:57 PM EST
NH Sen. Shaheen: 'We Need to Get Assault Weapons Off Our Streets'
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, issued a statement Monday in the wake of last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., saying it's time to get assault weapons off the streets.
"After a heartbroken weekend where the nation grieved with the families of Newtown, it's time for elected leaders to come together and determine what we can do to help end the culture of violence that is leading to these tragedies," Shaheen said. "We need a comprehensive approach that includes improving access to mental health services, better enforcement of our current laws, and we need to get deadly assault weapons off our streets."
12/17/2012 1:56 PM EST
NIH Study: Only 1/2 Kids In U.S. With Severe Mental Illness Get Treatment
A nationally representative face-to-face survey of more than 10,000 teens ages 13-18 turned up alarming findings about their access to professional mental health care.
Only about one-third of those with any lifetime mental disorder got professional help, and just half of those severely impaired by mental disorders received professional help, the study found. State and federal efforts to increase youth mental health services aren't working, it said. Racial and ethnic minority youth were least likely to get help, the study found.
-- HuffPost's David Wood
12/17/2012 1:54 PM EST
Crowds Forming at Services for Sandy Hook Victims
Via Newtown Patch:
Lines are forming outside funeral homes in Newtown, Fairfield and Monroe, CT as people assemble to pay their respects to three 6-year-olds who were among the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14. In Newtown, services for Jack Pinto, 6, are set to start at 1 p.m. In Fairfield, mourners gathered for services for Noah Pozner, 6.
A wake is scheduled today in Monroe for James Mattioli, 6. The three 6-year-olds are the first of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to be laid to rest. Funeral services for the other victims will take place tomorrow and Wednesday.
12/17/2012 1:53 PM EST
Westboro Baptist Church Member: Legalizing Gay Marriage 'Brings the Shooter Like it Did in CT'
The controversial Westboro Baptist Church has announced plans to protest outside of the Anne Arundel Circuit Court on Jan 2.—the first day same-sex couples will be able to wed there. "On that day the court starts committing that abomination that brings the shooter like it did in Connecticut," said Shirley Phelps-Roper, the daughter of the church's founder.
She also made headlines this weekend when she claimed via Twitter that Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, was sent by God. She told Annapolis Patch, "God keeps sending the shooter."
12/17/2012 1:53 PM EST
AFT Urges Michigan Gov. Snyder To Veto Gun-In-Schools Bill
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and AFT Michigan President David Hecker on Sunday urged Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder Sunday to veto legislation that would allow concealed firearms in schools and other locations.
The tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, is a “chilling and heartbreaking reminder” that “firearms have absolutely no place in our schools,” they wrote. “Gov. Snyder, please show the kind of leadership that students, families, educators and community members need to be as safe as possible in their schools. You can set an example for Michigan and the nation by taking this small but significant step to reduce gun violence by vetoing S.B. 59.”
View the letter here.
12/17/2012 10:23 AM EST
Small Acts Of Kindness
@ TVMarci :
Wow. Someone from CA just called the #Newtown General Store saying she wants to buy coffee for everyone in town. Every cup is billed to her
@ TVMarci :
Clerk @ #Newtown General Store started crying when woman offered to pay for every coffee purchased today. What an amazing #actofkindness
@ TVMarci :
This sign now hangs in front of the #Newtown General Store. Thank you, Tom Cabanaugh! #actofkindess http://t.co/DsLk5B2W
12/17/2012 10:20 AM EST
Police: Suspicious Person Puts Ridgefield Schools On Lockdown
Reports of a suspicious person at the Branchfield train station in Ridgefield Monday morning brought out police and placed all local schools on lockdown. Authorities, along with a K-9 unit, are canvassing the area after receiving a report of a man with an unknown item slung over his back. Police were first informed of the suspicious person at about 9 a.m.
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