Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson spoke at a House of Representatives hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, January 16.
The hearing, called “Gun Violence Prevention: A Call to Action,” was conducted by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Dr Robinson was one speaker on a panel for the hearing.
Dr Robinson began her speech by recounting the events of that “beautiful December morning,” and ended by asking for help to give the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School a better future.
That morning, December 14, Dr Robinson said nearly 500 elementary students filed into Sandy Hook School with the expectation that good things would be happening.
“In the first three classrooms in the front hallway, the little first graders’ coats were hung up, and the morning routines began with their circle time on the rug with their teacher,” Dr Robinson said. “There they discussed the calendar, the activities of the day along with an activity for Responsive Classroom.”
Dr Robinson went on to explain it was a typical routine for a school that “exudes caring, happiness, nurturing, from the moment you walk through the doors.”
“Sandy Hook Elementary School seemed like the safest place on earth,” said the superintendent, “in this quiet little suburban community. This school has been known for the superb education that students receive for over 50 years, and has been acknowledged as a Vanguard School.”
The school, Dr Robinson said, is an important piece of the fabric of the Newtown community.
Then Adam Lanza carried two guns, one an assault rifle, into the school after bypassing the school’s buzz-in security system at the school’s entrance by shooting his way in.
Dr Robinson detailed Mr Lanza’s steps that morning. First, he went into the school’s main office, where one secretary flew under a desk with a phone.
“Fortunately, he didn’t check [under the desk],” Dr Robinson said. “Then he went back out into the hall where he was confronted by the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, the lead teacher, Natalie Hammond, and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, who emerged from a meeting in a conference room. I can just picture Dawn’s indignation that someone would dare enter her school and put her babies at risk. It would be so like her to be the protective mother hen, and never think of her own safety. But only, of course, of making him stop right then and there.”
The bodies of Ms Hochsprung and Ms Sherlach were found there, Dr Robinson recounted, where they had charged the shooter. Ms Hammond survived with serious injuries.
After that, Mr Lanza bypassed a first grade classroom and made his way to the second first grade classroom in the school, where he began shooting, Dr Robinson said, “killing the school’s permanent substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau and all but one child who was clever enough to play dead and didn’t even whimper.”
By the time Mr Lanza made his way into Victoria Soto’s first grade classroom, Dr Robinson said she had crammed as many children as possible in a bathroom and was trying to find hiding places for the others.
“Vicki Soto, who was so excited to finally reach her dream to be a teacher, threw herself in front of her students,” Dr Robinson explained, “such incredible bravery from such a young first grade teacher.”
Anne Marie Murphy, an educational assistant, also threw herself in front of her young charge, Dr Robinson said, and Rachel Davino, a behavior therapist at the school, did the same.
“None of these brave women were trained in combat,” said Dr Robinson. “They were elementary school educators dedicated to educating their young children. So their first response when confronted with this terror was to protect their children.”
The first responders, Dr Robinson continued, arrived within three minutes.
“They saved innumerable lives as the shooter carried enough ammunition to have continued throughout the entire school,” said Dr Robinson.
Dr Robinson said the 20 beautiful children lost that day were no match for a troubled person with an AR-15.
“We are all forever changed,” Dr Robinson said later, after explaining the loss each death represents and before questioning the long-term needs of the surviving students.
Dr Robinson questioned how to let children freely be children and how to protect children without creating fortresses.
As her final message to the committee, Dr Robinson shared a letter from a fourth grade Newtown student she named as Ava S.
Part of the letter, as read by Dr Robinson, said, “What everyone in Newtown wants is for you to ban semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines, and to make everyone use guns safely. This is important so that a person cannot shoot many people at once, and or injure people badly. Semiautomatic weapons and large capacity magazines end lives and put lives at risk. This ban will help individuals, families, and communities from suffering the way we are now in Newtown.”