Perkins student remembers Sandy Hook principal

I am safe — More than five years ago, this was the first line of a message scrawled on big, yellow construction-paper hands placed all throughout Bethlehem Elementary School in Bethlehem, Conn.
Melissa Topey
Dec 20, 2012


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.



I know a friend of a friend of a cousin who knew one of the victims, shall we do a story on it? Enough already!!! Can anyone say overkill?


KD - obviously you could use a good dose of her mantra


You're a cold-hearted IDIOT, who has no compassion.


I'm not cold-hearted, I certainly have compassion for the victims and family but the month long barrage of media following these tragedies has been proven to bring out more (copycats) looking for their 15 min of fame. The best way to honor the dead and their family is to leave the heck alone, and certainly we shouldn't be making the killer famous. If my family member was killed I would be pissed at all the unneccessary media involvement.


So tell me how you would feel if you were personally involved in tragedy and had the media camped outside your door, constantly trying to shove a microphone in your face? You completely missed the point...but like most of the ignorant people that live in this part of the state, I guess that's to be expected. I stand by my assertion that the media is engaged in overkill.


It isn't overkill. This isn't some convoluted association. This girl had a personal connection to the principal that was killed. Most people feel horrible about what happened and we never met any of them. Imagine how hard it must be to have known this lady, to have interacted with her, to remember her so fondly, and then to think about how she died?


This just happened not even a week ago. They are still burying their dead and people are still trying to make sense of it all . This article is just a small stepping stone on that very long path to healing and to me is necessary and appropriate . The events of this horrible , and senseless tragedy will echo in my mind for a long time to come . Thank you Dawn Hochsprung for your heroism . May you and all that were lost rest in peace .


Yes KnuckleDragger, it is "overkill" = 20 children and six adults.


Right on judgejudy!! While I think I understand what knuckledragger was getting at, I think he missed the bigger point of the story..this woman touched many young lives with a positive influence and her loss is a great one as well as the loss of the other victims.This type of tragedy can happen anywhere and we all need to go home and hug or loved ones and let them know everday how special they are to us because you just never know what tomorrow may bring....


Completely off topic........Does anyone know what the Border Patrol had going on on Rt2 yesterday afternoon? They had multiple cars pulled over and had the port Compton Wal-Mart shut down while searching numerous cars. I would like to know what they are doing. I see their cars everywhere, I see their brand new mansion on 53, but I never read about anything they have done. No reports, no big busts, etc. The public has a right to know where our tax dollars go.


Since the lake crosses into Canadian waters. I would say the Border Patrol is probably right where they need to be. I don't know what every single entity of the government does and I certainly don't need to know everything that the Border Patrol is doing to know they are aiding in keeping us safe.'s exactly that mentality that creates these situations, a lack of human decency and a lack of human respect. This story was right on point. It tells how this woman died trying to keep the staff and students safe just like she always has made her students feel safe and welcome. It also tells just how much this entire country is touched by this tragedy in more ways than one.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights). I stand by my statement.

2cents's picture

Alyssa, Do your best to remember the good things in her. The brain is so amazing how it can keep some memories better than others. I remember in detail one day in grade school holding a brand new dime while standing in the hall waiting in line during bathroom break, everything including the color of the walls is just there!

I find it almost unreal what those children’s thoughts will be at my age, all the children at that school and at other places like Columbine or in just day to day living and loosing someone so close at such a young age. Life is not always fair but that is part of the experience of living, we make the best of it, live by the golden rule and in the long run it is all worth it.

Just saying!