Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Dawn Hochsprung, 47 (AP Photo/Eliza Hallabeck / December 16, 2012)

She later received a master's degree in education from Southern Connecticut State University.

But it wasn't easy.

By this point in her life, Hochsprung was also a mother. She had a daughter, Christina Lafferty Hassinger, now 28 and a mother of four, when she was 19. A little more than a year later, Erica Lafferty was born.

A few years later, Hochsprung would have to learn how to do all of it on her own.

Lafferty, 27, a college admissions counselor, said her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and her mother quickly took on the roles of both mom and dad.

Life was a constant juggle. With the help of her mother, Cheryl Lafferty, Hochsprung continued her education as a single, working mom. Sometimes that meant later dinners, night classes or Hochsprung having to complete her college work assignments in the bleachers while cheering for her daughters.

"There weren't enough hours in the day to do all the things that she did," Lafferty said. "I think she had this desire to show my sister and I that nothing is out of reach as long as you worked hard and were a good person."

Naugatuck's mayor, Robert A. Mezzo, acknowledged her struggles.

"She worked from humble beginnings to become one of the most respected educators in the state," Mezzo said.

But no matter how busy she was, Hochsprung always put her own children first. Lafferty said her mother never missed their school events or games. And when they were ill, Hochsprung's world of staff meetings, carpooling, test grading and homemaking turned into days of nursing and cuddling under the covers.

Years later, Lafferty recalls only the good parts of her difficult bout with pneumonia at age 10.

"She laid in bed with me all day and read 'Harriet the Spy' books over and over again to me," Lafferty said. "Sure, she had a classroom of children waiting to be taught. But her kid was sick. We have been her No. 1 priority since she was 18."

Colleagues said she had that a similar devotion to her students.

Since the shooting Friday, there have been numerous stories of Hochsprung's care and attention to students and staff members in all the schools she worked at since becoming an educator.

And on her last day, she provided the greatest example of her loyalty yet.

Lafferty, her sister, and Hochsprung's husband raced to Newtown and ran hand-in-hand up a hill toward the school after hearing about the shooting. Lafferty prepared herself for the worst after hearing a news report quoting a witness describing the evacuation of the school as "chaotic." Her mother was always well-organized.

"That's not a good sign,' I thought," she said. "There's no chaos in her life."

She recalled how a parent at the scene covered his child's mouth when they asked whether the principal had been shot. After waiting for hours at the nearby firehouse for a sign of some good news, one official told the waiting families of how two adult survivors were found.

"They told us they found two adults hiding in a closet," Lafferty said. "But I knew my mom wasn't one of them. There is no way my mom would be hiding in a closet while that was going on at her school."

Lafferty said Hochsprung's husband was later told by a survivor that after hearing loud noises in the front of the school, Hochsprung told the other staff members to hide.