Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung was a warm, dedicated educator who was pursuing a doctorate degree in education when she was fatally shot Friday morning in a tragedy whose horrific details are slowly emerging.
Relatives have confirmed that 47-year-old Hochsprung was among the 27 people — including 20 children — killed at the school in a shooting spree whose cause and suspected gunman remain unclear.
Hochsprung’s niece, MaryAnn Suarez of Naugatuck, said her aunt devoted her life to the kids in her school.
“In every school she worked at, every teacher was her friend, she was every child’s friend,” Suarez said.
According to Suarez, Hochsprung is a married mother of two daughters and four grandchildren.
Details of the shooting are slowly emerging, and police have declined to identify the suspected gunman, citing an ongoing investigation.
At about 9:40 a.m. today, a shooter entered the elementary school and opened fire, officials say. Police say the gunman shot and killed himself and that 20 children and six more adults also are dead.
Katie Singley, who met Hochsprung at a school in Bethlehem about eight years ago when the latter was appointed principal there, said Hochsprung also had worked as a teacher in Danbury and at Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury prior to coming to Newtown around 2010.
Singley described her friend as a selfless and protective woman.
“Dawn, she was like your mother, your friend, your grandmother, your teacher, your protector, everything all in one,” Singley recalled. “She was the best person to have on your side.”
“I don’t really know what happened at the school when that shooter came in, but I know she would fight to protect those kids,” Singley added. “She was definitely the best woman for the job to be in charge today and I can picture her standing up to this man. I could see her fighting, doing anything to protect her staff and those little babies there. I think she died doing what she was put on this earth to do and that’s being in charge and protecting those kids.”
One schools official in nearby New York state — James Langlois, who serves as District Superintendent of Putnam/Northern Westchester Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and had worked with Hochsprung — said the deceased principal was "wonderful, happy" person, who was "full of energy," and who had a "bubbly personality."
"She was clearly someone who loved what she was doing,” said Langlois, adding that he worked with Hochsprung while she was conducting academic interviews for her doctorate degree. “She'd light up when she talked about her work. It's a really sad loss."
"It was absolutely a delight to spend time with her,” Langlois added.
According to Suarez, Hochsprung was pursuing her higher degree in education in Albany, NY.
“It’s such a shame,” Suarez said. “She was so young.”
Religious leaders in Newtown are holding special prayer services Friday night.
[Editor's Note: Katie Singley is married to Paul Singley, local editor of Oxford and Naugautuck Patches.]