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November 6, 2013

New Castle Schools: Sandy Hook teacher who protected class during deadly shootings shares story

NEW CASTLE — Forty-five minutes.

That three-quarters of an hour seemed like an eternity on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, after teacher Kaitlin Roig made a decision that spared her 15 first graders from a deadly encounter with a deranged shooter roaming the halls at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But the exact same time span passed quickly yesterday morning when Roig spoke during an in-service day for New Castle Area School District personnel.

Roig, who competed in the New York City Marathon on Sunday, brought a life lesson to New Castle, and the devoted elementary teacher was at her best in presenting it.

Her classroom was the high school auditorium and the students were her peers. The emotional story inspired, motivated, uplifted and challenged all who had ears.

Roig, who turned 30 last week, shared what took place on that terrifying day and revealed the positive outlook and new purpose that has come from it.

“Tragedy does not have to define you,” she said. “It’s how you choose to react.”

Roig made a choice to shelter her students in a three-by-four-foot bathroom in the back of her classroom.

Twenty others students and six teachers in Newtown, Conn. found no sanctuary. They were slain.

RELIVING TERROR

Hired at age 22, Roig was in her seventh year at Sandy Hook when her world was forever changed.

Roig said the school year was passing quickly as the holidays approached. She was counting the days to her impending wedding, but the countdown came to a screeching halt on a fateful Friday morning.

The day began with Roig watching the sun rise over the water as she prepared to leave for school. “Everything looked so calm and happy that I went back inside to get a camera and capture the moment.”

Three hours later she was just hoping to stay alive. “There’s nothing you can do to prepare for that,” she said. “Your life can change in a moment.”

Students were sharing their holiday traditions when loud, rapid gunfire erupted just outside the room. The classroom door was unlocked and Roig’s key was in her purse across the room. She doubted there was enough time to reach it. Instincts took over. She switched off the room light and instructed her students to quietly enter the small bathroom in the back. They wanted to know why.

One by one they entered. One standing on the toilet, another on the sink. Students were squished and stacked everywhere with orders to keep silent. “It didn’t seem possible, but we had to get in there,” Roig said.

They listened through the wall as the awful sounds continued. Roig quietly reassured her kids that “everything would be OK.”

“I love you all very much and am so thankful to be your teacher,” she told them.

“But I really didn’t think we would get out of there alive,” she admitted.

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