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Victims Remembered Fondly

By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, kgosselin@courant.co

The Hartford Courant

3:51 PM EST, December 15, 2012

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The names of more victims in Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School emerged Saturday, including a teacher who had just landed a permanent substitute position at the school.

Lauren Rousseau, 30, landed the subsitute job in November and was one of the six adults who died in the shooting, family members confirmed, along with first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, a first-grade teacher, principal Dawn L. Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary J. Sherlach.

Two children — Ana Grace Marquez Greene, 6, and Olivia Rose Engel — were confirmed by family members to be among the 20 students who died Friday.

Tributes continued to pour in Saturday for heroism displayed by teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with at least one losing her life to protect her students.

Soto was teacher in room 10 right next to where the shooting began. Soto hid her students, some in a bathroom, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Soto was shot in her classroom by shooting suspect Adam Lanza after he entered her room looking to shoot more people. The source said she had 15 or 16 children in her class. He walked in, shot her and goes back into the hallway toward another class. The source said there's no doubt the suspect would have fired at more students if he had seen them.

A Facebook page "RIP Sandy Hook Elementary School Children" had a post in memory of Soto with 7,572 likes. "My heart goes out to your family for their heartbreak. You beautiful hero are now surrounded by the 20 little angels, little stars that now and forever will shine above us. RIP and thank you," one post read.

The principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown — described in one tribute as "a principal that you'd want your children to have" — was among the more than two dozen adults and children killed Friday at the school in a shooting that sent shock waves around the world.

Word of the death of Dawn L. Hochsprung, 47, spread quickly Friday through the town of Woodbury, where she lived with her family, said First Selectman Gerald Stomski.

Hochsprung had been a principal in the Bethlehem and Woodbury school district before taking the job in Newtown two years ago.

"We were saddened to see her leave, but I know she was excited for that job," Stomski said. "She was very charismatic and had an incredible way with students and parents."

Police have not confirmed the identities of any of the shooting victims, but Hochsprung is among at least two other adults who also are believed to have died: Mary J. Sherlach, 56, the school psychologist, of Trumbull, and Nancy Lanza, 52, the mother of the shooter Adam Lanza, who was found dead at her Newtown home. In all, 28 people — 20 of them schoolchildren — died, including the suspect, police said.

Stomski said that Hochsprung lived in Woodbury even after she took the job in Newtown.

"She died protecting the children that she adored so much. It's just incredibly shocking,'' Stomski said.

Numerous people turned to social media to offer words of praise for Hochsprung's leadership.

"She was deeply, deeply loved," one tribute said. Another wrote: "As Dawn Hochsprung said every day in morning announcements, 'Be nice to each other.' It's really all that matters."

Hochsprung, who became principal of the school in 2010, was principal at Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury for three years and principal at Bethlehem Elementary School from 2004 to 2007. Earlier, she worked as an assistant principal in the Danbury schools — one year at Danbury High School and five years at Rogers Park Middle School — and as a special education teacher in Bridgeport and New Milford.

Hochsprung started her doctorate this year at Sage College in Troy, N.Y., which issued a statement describing her as a model principal.

At the start of this school year at Sandy Hook, which has students from kindergarten through fourth grade, she told the Newtown Bee that she was "really excited about bringing a readers workshop into the mainstream of the program. ... We capitalize on [students'] love of reading and use that passion to advance their achievement."

Hochsprung recently wrote to parents about the new security system that had been installed at the school, and reportedly alerted teachers Friday about the shooter by tripping the public address system.

On Oct. 17, she posted a tweet that read: "Safety first at Sandy Hook... it's a beautiful day for our first evacuation drill!"

Her tweets were often exuberant and frequently included photographs. "Sandy Hook gardeners celebrate their learning after the fall harvest!" "Vote today... and talk to your kids about it!!" "In a fourth grade classroom right now... Completely blown away by the caliber of instruction and by students' deep thinking!" "Chicken dancing at Sandy Hook with the Carnivale Trio!" "Busy afternoon at the Sandy Hook Book Fair... Great time to support your school & stock up for winter reading!"

Her last tweet, written Thursday, read: "Setting up for the Sandy Hook nonfiction book preview for staff... Common Core, here we come!" The tweet included her photograph of a display of books, among them "Alligator or Crocodile: How Do You Know?" and "Insect or Spider: How Do You Know?"

Hochsprung, who was married and raising two daughters and three stepdaughters, received her bachelor's degree in special education from Central Connecticut State University in 1993, a master's in special education from Southern Connecticut State University in 1997 and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership from Southern.

Sherlach, according to numerous news outlets and CNN, also died in the shooting and had worked at Sandy Hook Elementary since 1994 and had served on numerous districtwide committees, including the conflict resolution committee, according to a biography on the Newtown Public Schools website.

Sherlach lived in Trumbull and was married with two adult daughters — one a high school chorus teacher in New Jersey and the other a graduate student at Georgetown University. Sherlach wrote in the biography that she and her husband, Bill, enjoyed traveling and spending time at their lake house in the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Her hobbies were gardening, reading and the theater.

"I truly enjoy working with the SHS staff, parents and children and am always ready to assist in problem solving, intervention and prevention," she wrote.

The gunman's mother, Nancy Lanza, who some said worked, or volunteered, at the Sandy Hook School, was found dead in her Newtown home, according to many reports.

According to friends and neighbors, Lanza was a kind woman with a sense of humor. Slender, with short hair, Lanza was a fixture at neighborhood events such as the Labor Day parade, and had a special interest in Christmas lights.

Lanza lived on Yogananda Street, in a hilly, affluent neighborhood in the east end of town. Neighbors call it a children- and family-friendly place, a description backed up by the kids riding their bikes and the folks walking their dogs despite the crush of television trucks and reporters waiting near the Lanza home.

Although many interviewed in the neighborhood said they didn't know Nancy Lanza, or merely knew that a family by that name lived nearby, those that did know her said the day's events were too much.

Lanza's friend and neighbor Rhonda Cullens fought back tears Friday afternoon in the doorway of her home on Founders Lane, just around the corner from the Lanza residence.

She said she met Nancy Lanza playing bunco, a popular dice game, with a group of women in the neighborhood, but she hadn't seen her for years since she stopped playing with the group. "She was just a sweet, caring person."

Marsha Moskowitz, 56, who lives near the Lanzas, used to drive a school bus for the school district and would pick up both Adam, 20, and Ryan Lanza, 24. They were "very quiet, shy," she said, "You know the trouble kids, and you figure, 'Pff, that one's going to be trouble.' But I never would have thought that about them."

In dropping off and picking up the boys each day for years, she would often run into Nancy Lanza, she said.

"We would chit-chat," Moskowitz said, who remembered Lanza as "a very kind woman."

Courant staff writers Dave Altimari, Brian Dowling, Jenny Wilson, Naedine Hazell and Nancy Schoeffler contributed to this story. An Associated Press report also is included.