Conn. Adult Shooting Victims Hailed As Heroes

Six school employees died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. President Obama has hailed them as heroes. The six women included a veteran school psychologist, a dedicated special education teacher and a young substitute at the beginning of her career.

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Among those killed last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut were six school employees, all of them women. School officials say they died trying to protect their young students. NPR's Jim Zarroli spoke with some people who knew the women.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When President Obama spoke at a prayer vigil in Newtown on Sunday, he took time to single out the six teachers and administrators who died in the shootings. They were, he said, an inspiration to everyone.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

ZARROLI: Among the first to die was Principal Dawn Hochsprung. She was apparently in a meeting when she heard the shots. School officials say she went to investigate and died lunging at the gunman. Hochsprung was a charismatic, well-liked educator who, at age 47, already had 11 grandchildren and step-grandchildren. Bob Bradley was her doctoral advisor at Russell Sage College.

BOB BRADLEY: She was interested, enthusiastic, very, very positive, always smiling, good sense of humor, but serious about her work. She was just a great part of the program.

ZARROLI: Newtown officials say a second woman also apparently died trying to rush the gunman. She was 56-year-old Mary Sherlach, a veteran school psychologist who planned to retire next year. Her son-in-law has said she felt like she was doing God's work, working with the children. Twenty-nine-year-old Rachel D'Avino had been a special education teacher at Sandy Hook for just two weeks. Lissa Lovetere Stone was a friend of D'Avino's.

Stone has an autistic son and D'Avino was his teacher at another school district.

LISSA LOVETERE STONE: Any other teacher, at 3:00 the bell rings, you can go home and see you on Monday. She wasn't ever like that. She would come to our house. She helped me potty train him. She helped me set up his room in a way that he liked how it was. She just knew. She just knew these special ed kids and she just knew how to handle them.

ZARROLI: Several of the Sandy Hook teachers are said to have died protecting their students. They included first grade teacher Victoria Soto, who was 27. Her cousin, James Wiltsie, a Connecticut police officer, appeared on the "Today" show this weekend. He said authorities had described her death to the family.

JAMES WILTSIE: Their father, Carlos, was up the other night and was just told kind of how she was found protecting her kids, doing instinctively what she knew to do, huddling them in the closet and trying to shield them from the spray of the bullets.

ZARROLI: It was the same story with 52-year-old Anne Marie Murphy. According to newspaper accounts, her family has been told by law enforcement officials that she was found on top of some of her students, as though she'd been trying to protect them from the gunman. The sixth victim was 30-year-old Lauren Rousseau. She had recently gotten her graduate degree at the University of Bridgeport.

Faculty member Joyce Cook says Rousseau was confident and enthusiastic and determined to be an elementary school teacher.

JOYCE COOK: And I said to her, why do you want to do elementary? You could be doing secondary. The program is shorter and, you know, there's more jobs available. And I remember this quote so clearly. She said: I really want to do elementary because my heart floats to the little children.

ZARROLI: Ultimately, Rousseau got her wish. This year she was hired by Sandy Hook Elementary as a substitute teacher and that's where she was last Friday morning when a gunman shot his way through the school. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.

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