Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung was killed at Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday morning while attempting to stop Adam Lanza, the gunman who murdered 26 people, including 20 children aged six and seven.
Lafferty Hochsprung threw herself at Lanza trying to take him down. She was shot in the leg and arm and died of her wounds. The principal is also believed to have switched on the loudspeaker system in the school to alert the students and staff.
Melanie Buhrmaster-Bunch, Hochsprung’s friend and cousin, told “Good Morning America,” “When I learned that she actually tried to take the gunman down, it was no surprise to me at all.
“My only hope is that the gunman actually had a little bit of fear knowing this 5-foot-2-inch raging bull was coming at him, that he had a little bit of fear in his eyes that knowing that someone like Dawn was going to come after him because he was trying to hurt her students.
“She was so vibrant and so full of life and I want people to know that she was a hero.”
The principal’s son-in-law Ryan Hassinger said explaining to his children how their grandmother died will be difficult but makes him proud.
He said, “I don’t want to have a conversation like that with my kids. But being able to tell them that she saved a lot of children and was able to warn everyone and she saved a lot of lives, so she’s a hero.”
The 47-year-old principal, who was working towards her PhD, was in the midst of implementing a new security system in the Newtown school before Lanza (20) shot his way into the elementary school and began his killing spree.
Lafferty Hochsprung, a daughter, mother, wife, and grandmother is been hailed as one of the many heroes of Newtown last Friday. In the face of a terrifying situation she thought not of her own safety but of the children under her care.
Just after the massacre the chairman of the town's legislative council, Jeff Capeci was asked if Lafferty Hochsprung was a hero. He said, “From what we know, it's hard to classify her as anything else.”
When Lanza entered the school, at approximately 9.30am, Lafferty Hochsprung was seated in a meeting with therapist Diane Day and the school psychologist Mary Sherlach.
Day told the Wall Street Journal that they had been in the meeting when they heard a “pop, pop, pop.”
She said, “I went under the table” but Lafferty Hochsprung and Sherlach ran out of the room.
“They didn’t think twice about confronting or seeing what was going on,” she said.
“At first we heard a bunch of kids scream, and then it was just quiet and all you could hear was the shooting.”
Both Lafferty Hochsprung and Sherlach were killed. Day said, “She was our hero.” An unidentified school caretaker was also killed after he ran through the school trying to alert the children and teachers.
Lafferty Hochsprung’s obituary in the local newspaper the Newtown Bee described her as a “dedicated teacher who inspired her students to reach their fullest potential by instilling in them the importance of life-long learning. A fierce leader and educational activist, Ms Hochsprung was admired by her colleagues, students, and parents, particularly for her caring and nurturing nature. She often referred to her students as her “children” and wanted school to be a positive place and a safe haven.”
It continued, “she was extremely devoted to her family. There was nothing in the world she would not do to ensure that her family was happy and safe. She often credited her mother, Cheryl “Gee Gee” Lafferty for instilling in her the importance of family, and never taking them for granted.”
Lafferty Hochsprung’s career began with focus on special education during her bachelors and masters degrees in the 1990s. She came to Newtown with 12-years of administrative experience, including as a principal in Regional School District 14 serving the Connecticut communities of Bethlehem and Danbury. Last year she began her doctorate at Esteves School of Education at the Sage Colleges in New York.
Dean of the school Lori V Quigley said she made a big impression, initially with her smile. Quigley told CNN, “She was truly a caring administrator.”