Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung Photo: AP
ONE dressed up in goofy costumes to make her students smile. Another was a psychologist who saw generations of students through their parents' divorces, personal troubles and difficult days.
Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, psychologist Mary Sherlach and grade 1 teacher Victoria Soto were among the six adult victims of the mass shooting on Friday - educators gunned down alongside the children they cared for as if they were their own.
The unimaginable loss of 20 children consumed much of the nation. But in Newtown, Connecticut, a tight-knit community of about 25,000 bonded by its schools, a profound, personal ache was also felt for the school staff members killed.
School psychologist Mary Sherlach.
Mrs Sherlach, 56, was remembered for her many years of helping students cope with problems. And Mrs Hochsprung, 47, was mourned as a creative and dedicated educator who quickly won over children and adults alike.
''I'm not surprised she gave her life in this fashion, trying to protect her students,'' said friend Gerald Stomski.
Grief-stricken Sandy Hook parents spoke of the school as if it were part of their own home, a haven of support for children and their families.
That environment was fostered by Mrs Hochsprung, who began her job there in 2010. She worked hard to tamp down any nervousness children felt approaching the notorious ''principal's office.'' ''She really reached out to the students and made them feel comfortable with her,'' said Diane Licata, the mother of a first grader and a second grader.
Mrs Hochsprung organised festive days she called Wacky Wednesdays, when students were encouraged to wear goofy clothes that did not match.
She had students dress up as their favourite storybook characters, and she was known for dressing up herself.
Mrs Hochsprung believed that many students engaged better with electronic screens than with blackboards, and she made sure her teachers had iPads in the classroom. Then, she organised ''Appy Hour'' sessions to discuss the most useful teaching apps.
If Mrs Hochsprung was a relatively new face in the school, Mrs Sherlach was a fixture. ''When somebody had a personal tragedy in their lives that affected their children, then Mary would be a part of trying to help them come up with a solution for that child,'' said Lillian Bittman, whose three children graduated from Sandy Hook Elementary.
Mrs Sherlach lived with her husband, William, a financial adviser with Morgan Stanley, in Fairfield.
As night fell on Friday, mourners streamed in and out of Mrs Sherlach's home.
John Button, 57, a friend of Mrs Sherlach's husband, said she was getting ready to retire.
''It was going to be her last year - that's what she said,'' Mr Button said. ''She loved her job. She's done this for her whole career.''
The New York Times