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Perkins student remembers Sandy Hook principal

Melissa Topey • Dec 20, 2012 at 5:28 AM

I am safe. It was written on the thumb of each paper hand.  

On one finger was written “I am responsible.” On another, “I am prepared.”

One former student at that elementary school in Connecticut remembers those hands quite well.

“We would repeat it every morning,” said Alyssa Gagnon, who attended the school as third-, fourth- and fifth-grader. “I am safe,

responsible, respectful, prepared.”

The mantra, taught to the children as part of an anti-bullying campaign, was the brainchild of then-principal Dawn Hochsprung.  

Hochsprung was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

She was shot to death Friday, trying to stop a gunman who blasted his way into the elementary school, where he killed 20 children and six adults. Hochsprung died protecting the children in her school.

Her courage is no surprise to Alyssa, now 16 and a student at Perkins High School.

“She cared about us,” Alyssa said.

Alyssa’s mother, Christine Henderly, remembers Hochsprung greeting the school buses every day as they pulled up to Bethlehem Elementary.

She made sure everyone made it into the school and to their classrooms.

“She cared that they were doing well in school and that they were happy,” Henderly said.

Alyssa said she was on her way home Friday from a Perkins High field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art when one of her classmates with a smartphone began reading about the school shooting at Sandy Hook.

Hochsprung. The name sounded familiar.

Not until Alyssa was at home, in her bedroom, did she realize it was one of her favorite principals.

“I sat in my room. I did not know what to do,” Alyssa said. “I waited for my mom to come home.”

Henderly and her children then sat around, talking about their memories of Hochsprung and Connecticut.

Alyssa recalled Hochsprung’s perpetual smile and her black poodle, Bella, who was always at the school.

“Bella would run into the classrooms,” Alyssa said. “We loved that.”

Watching the images of children being led out of Sandy Hook Elementary, Henderly said she couldn’t help but picture her own children.

“I don’t think anyone with kids could not think of their kids,” Henderly said.

She worries that her children, and others, have lost some of their innocence in the tragedy’s wake.

And for a 16-year-old girl in Perkins Township, the cruelty of man has touched much too close to home.

“It’s upsetting, honestly,” Alyssa said. “It could happen anywhere, to anyone. You cannot predict it.”

And yet, when she thinks of Hochsprung, she thinks of a yellow hand.

A hand that tells her she is safe.


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