Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung Was Loved By Kids: Friend

12/14/2012 at 07:30 PM EST

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook Elementary School principal killed in Friday's mass shooting, will be remembered as a committed educator who was loved by her students.

The principal of the Newtown, Conn., school died trying to protect the students she cared for every day. The gunman, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, started his rampage in the school's main office, where Hochsprung had reportedly come out of a meeting.

Hochsprung was killed in the shooting, the sound of which was reportedly broadcast over the school's PA system.

"She was really nice and very fun, but she was also very much a tough lady in the right sort of sense," Tom Prunty, a friend whose niece goes to Sandy Hook and was uninjured Friday, told CNN. "She was the kind of person you'd want to be educating your kids. And the kids loved her."



In all, the death toll in the tragedy has been put at 28 total: 20 children, six adults – including Hochsprung – the gunman and the gunman's mother at a secondary location.



Safety In Mind

Hochsprung was committed to school safety, having recently installed a visual monitoring system on the campus. Visitors had to wait to be let in after the school doors locked at 9:30 a.m., and then sign in at the main office. In a letter to parents about the security system, Hochsprung said the lengthy process of the new system would take some getting used to, but that it was for the greater good of the school. And Hochsprung would have done anything to make Sandy Hook Elementary School a great place to be.

"I don't think you could find a more positive place to bring students to every day," she told the Newtown Bee when she was first hired.

Vito Kala, the owner and manager of The Villa, an Italian restaurant down the road from Sandy Hook Elementary School that was frequented by Hochsprung and other staff members, tells PEOPLE he had no doubt about Hochsprung's courage.

"It doesn't surprise me at all to hear the principal was a hero," he said. "That's [in line] with what I know. That is what she would have done, no question."

Danbury Deputy superintendent William Glass would agree. "She had a tremendous intellect and a wonderful way with children," Glass said of the always-smiling principal. "She was an amazing educator. She was everything you would want."

And a dad of triplets who attend the school says of Hochsprung: "Every year she'd do a sock-hop at the school, and she'd dress up in hoop skirts and bobby socks. She really got into it. She was so great with the kids. They loved her. It does not surprise me at all she'd do something heroic."



Hochsprung maintained an active Twitter account, where she updated followers with news about the school. Her last Tweet expressed her excitement about a school event. "Setting up for the Sandy Hook nonfiction book preview for staff... Common Core, here we come!"



Hochsprung, of Waterbury, Conn., came to Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2010 with 12 years of administrative experience. She received a bachelor's degree in special education from Central Connecticut State University in 1993, a master's in special education from Southern Connecticut State University in 1997, and a sixth-year degree in educational leadership from Southern in 1998, according to NewsTimes.

She had two daughters and three stepdaughters, according to CNN.

With reporting from Sara Hammel

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