Dawn Hochsprung, 47

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

"She then went charging out of the office and into the hallway," Lafferty said.

And into the gunfire.

Lafferty said while she is proud of her mother's acts that day, she admits over time, on the days when the loss weighs heaviest, "I may hate her for it."

For now, she's holding on to parts of her mother in any way she can, no matter how insignificant they may have seemed before.

The smell of her mother's newly laundered bedsheets.

The taste of her Dutch apple cake and broccoli cheddar soup.

How she would try to sing Billy Joel songs in the car during sibling arguments.

There were many things Hochsprung said or wrote to her daughters in notes and letters they now cling to.

In tough times and when miles would separate them, Hochsprung would tell her girls: "You're never alone. It doesn't matter how far away you are. I am with you," Lafferty said.

Yet Lafferty said she learned the most from her mother just by watching her.

"I feel like she never had to sit us down and tell us what to do. We just watched her."

Hochsprung could also be tough.

She banished a neighborhood kid from her front porch one time for using curse words. And she refused to cave in and subscribe to cable television when the girls were young.

"If we got bored, she would say, go find a book, kid," Lafferty said.

But mostly, things were light with Hochsprung. She often joked that any problem could be solved with chocolate, one of her favorite things.

"She would end conversations with, 'Let's go have some chocolate,' " said Katie Singley, who worked as a teacher's aide at a school in Bethlehem where Hochsprung was a principal from 2004 to 2007 before she went to Sandy Hook.

Singley, 34, said Hochsprung's forward-thinking approach to education helped inspire her to become a teacher.

"She wasn't a principal who just sat in her office all day," Singley said. "She wanted no part of the old mentality of 'I'm going to stand up here and lecture and you have to listen.' She wanted the classes to be divided up into groups, she wanted the kids interacting."

Hochsprung took a personal interest in her employees, so much so that it changed the course of some of their lives. In addition to encouraging her to become a teacher, Hochsprung played matchmaker for Singley, introducing her to journalist Paul Singley, who was at the school covering an event for the local newspaper in November 2005.

The couple married three years later and now have a young daughter.