Share This Page

Heroic Sandy Hook teacher shares life lessons in Seneca Valley

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 5:24 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Kaitlin Roig speaks to Seneca Valley teachers on Thursday, August 22, 2013, about her experience as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the deadly shootings in December. Roig is credited with saving her class by hiding them in a cramped bathroom while a gunman unleashed terror in their school. She is taking a year off from teaching as she travels the country sharing her story with other educators and plans on returning to the classroom next school year.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Kaitlin Roig measures the space of a bathroom she hid students in during the Sandy Hook shootings.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Kaitlin Roig talks to the media at Seneca Valley in Harmony Thursday, August 22, 2013, about her experience as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the deadly shootings last December.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley teachers listen to Kaitlin Roig in Harmony Thursday, August 22, 2013, about her experience as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the deadly shootings last December.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Kaitlin Roig (right) speaks to Seneca Valley Superintendent Dr. Tracy Vitale in Harmony Thursday, August 22, 2013 about her experience as a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the deadly shootings last December.

First-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig knew she had little time to hide her 15 students when gunfire erupted at Sandy Hook Elementary School that day in December.

“I knew something evil was going on. We had to hide, and hide fast,” said Roig, whose classroom was closest to the school's front door.

She and the children squeezed into a bathroom in the classroom, about 3 feet wide and 4 feet long, and locked the door.

“We stood there, huddled, squished like sardines, listening to the sheer terror,” she recalled. “I did not think we'd ever get out.

“I told them how much I loved them. I had completely accepted my own death.”

Forty-five minutes later, a SWAT officer knocked on the door.

After the massacre in Newtown, Conn., claimed 26 people, mostly students, residents proclaimed Roig a hero.

On a year's leave from teaching, she spoke on Thursday to teachers in Seneca Valley School District in an unannounced visit, invited by Superintendent Tracy Vitale.

“I think she must be really strong to be doing this,” said Courtney Williams, a high school biology teacher.

“We need our teachers to hear about what she did that day and how she has moved on,” Vitale said.

Like many districts starting classes next week, Seneca Valley is increasing security. The district is installing secure entrances in buildings, coordinating plans for police patrols and planning random metal detector searches, Vitale said.

The group of 825 faculty and staff members is the largest Roig has addressed. The shooting resulted in intense personal reflection, she said.

“I was given another moment, another chance. There are no words of explanation for what happened that day, and never will be.”

For weeks afterward, Roig could not be alone. She feared getting on a train or bus, or even shopping without someone else.

“I could not be in a room alone with the door closed. I could not sleep in the dark,” she said.

Yet last week, she got married. She has set up a nonprofit corporation, and she engages in public speaking.

When school started in another building three weeks after the Dec. 14 shooting, Roig and her students were overwhelmed. People sent teddy bears, flowers, cupcakes and toys — “So much love came from around the country and from around the world.”

Resilient, as children can be, the students were happy to see one another when they returned to school, Roig said. She asked them what they might do for others, and that led her to found Classes4Classes Inc., an organization that helps schools or classrooms develop projects to help other schools or classes.

“When we use active experience to show our students the impact of helping someone else, it ultimately changes our social climate,” Roig said.

The shooting precipitated national debate about gun control and school safety — a debate Roig said is important, but “it is not my platform.”

Rick Wills is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.