Library clerk recalls US school shooting nightmare

2012-12-15 22:44

Newtown, Connecticut - Squeezed into a library storage room with 18 crying and confused fourth-graders, Mary Ann Jacob thought it appropriate to tell a lie in the interests of survival.

"We told them it was a drill, so they knew what to do," the library clerk at Sandy Hook Elementary School told reporters Saturday, a day after 20 children and six adults were slain in one of the worst school shootings in US history.

"But we knew it was gunshots because we had made a phone call" earlier to the school office -- a call prompted by bewildering noise over the intercom system -- from where the secretary said a gunman was on the rampage.

"I called the office because I thought it (the intercom noise) was a mistake," Jacob said. "The school secretary answered and she said there was shooting. I'm amazed she answered the phone."

Jacob, whose own teenaged children once attended the school, spoke to reporters at a football field turned al fresco media centre in this prosperous Connecticut town as the sun rose on a freezing cold morning.

She fought back tears as she remembered the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as "a very dear friend... an amazing woman and a great leader."

"We had a book fair a few weeks ago," Jacob recalled. "She dressed up as the reading fairy... and went around the classrooms putting reading-fairy dust on all the kids. She was strong and fun and the kids loved her."

Another who died Friday, she said, was the school psychologist, who she identified as Mary Sherlock.

Jacob, who has worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School for "four or five years," said she knew nothing about the alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, 20, or his mother who was found dead at a separate location.

But she could describe how the gunman conducted his bloodbath.

"He went in the front door -- if you go into the front door of the building, the office is right in front of you -- and then ... he went by the first classroom and into the next two classrooms where the shooting took place."

Of the slain principal, Jacob said: "I heard she was in a meeting across the hallway (from the two classrooms). She must have come out and confronted him on his way down the hallway."

Told by the school secretary that a shooting was underway, Jacob and two adult colleagues did as they had done so many times before in lock-down drills -- they huddled their young charges behind some bookcases, away from the window.

But they soon discovered that the library door was still unlocked, so they hurriedly relocated to the back storage room that contained some computer servers and, usefully, some art supplies.

"We locked the kids in there," she recalled. "We were, like, this close together. There were crayons and paper in the storage room, so we tore some (paper) off and gave them clipboards and had them colour."

She added: "They were asking, 'What's going on?' We said, 'We don't know, our job is to stay quiet, it may be a drill, but we're just going to stay here.' But we (adults) knew because we had called the office."

So terrified was everyone that they initially refused to come out when police arrived and pounded on the door, which Jacob and her colleagues had buttressed from inside with heavy steel filing cabinets.

More than an hour after the first shots, Jacob and the children had moved on to the safety of a nearby fire station, where pupils were assembled according to their respective classes and worried parents sought their loved ones.

"It became evident pretty quickly that there were almost two full classes missing," Jacob recalled.

"A couple of kids I know had gotten out from those classes -- but for the most part, it was those two first-grade classrooms" that had been cut down in a hail of bullets, she said.

 

- SAPA
Read more on:    us  |  us school shooting  |  gun control
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