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,” Ms. Jacob said. “The school secretary answered and she said there was shooting. I’m amazed she answered the phone.”
Ms. 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, Ms. 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 under way, Ms. 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 Ms. Jacob and her colleagues had buttressed from inside with heavy steel filing cabinets.
More than an hour after the first shots, Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.
In another class, 15 first graders cowered in a dark, barricaded bathroom as gunfire boomed outside, shot after shot after shot killing their classmates and teachers.
Terrified as they were, their teacher played loving mother hen, even as she feared they – ages 6 and 7 – and she were next and would die any minute.
Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig cried as she recounted her harrowing and heartbreaking chapter of the Connecticut school shooting to ABC News.
When gunfire rang out, she gathered her kids together – their classroom had a big, exposed and thus dangerous window – and rushed them into the small bathroom.
She pulled a bookcase across the doorway, closed the door and locked it from the inside.
Hush, she told the kids.
“I told them to be quiet. I told them to be absolutely quiet,” Ms. Roig said.
In a nightmarish silence, they heard the gunfire in the hallway just a few yards away.
“I said there are bad guys out there now and we have to wait for the good guys,” Ms. Roig said.
Kids would cry. Ask for their parents. They just wanted to go home and for it to be Christmas, Roig said. One little guy said don’t worry, he knew karate and would help lead them all out to safety.
To the ones who cried, Ms. Roig would cup their little faces in her hands and try to comfort them. “It is going to be okay. Show me your smile,” she recalled saying.
Ms. Roig feared the worst, the end, for all of them. “I’m thinking in my mind, we’re next,” she told ABC.
She tried to put herself inside the head of a six or 7-year-old in such a hellish situation. She concluded she had to play parent, and told them she loved them.
“I wanted them to know that someone loved them and I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard, not the gunfire in the hallway,” Ms. Roig said.
Eventually, the shooting stopped. Police knocked on the door and called out.
Roig was wary, and would not open it until they proved who they were by slipping their badges under the door.