Hundreds pay respects to Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung

Correction: Earlier versions of this story, including the print edition of Thursday’s Washington Post, misstated the age difference between Dawn Hochsprung and her husband, George. The article also misidentified the school where she was a doctoral candidate. The school is the Esteves School of Education at Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y.

The line of dark coats went on forever. It wrapped out the door of the funeral home and stretched down the street. Then it rounded the corner and stretched down another street.

Munson-Lovetere Funeral Home was no match for the mourners of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School who died Friday lunging at the gunman to try to stop his terrorizing attack.

Hundreds of people waited outside in the cold Wednesday to pay their respects during calling hours for the 47-year-old principal in her hometown of Woodbury, 25 minutes from Sandy Hook.

After three days of funerals for children killed in the Sandy Hook shootings, the visitation for Hochsprung and the funeral for first-grade teacher Victoria Soto were the first events memorializing the grown-ups who died in Friday’s massacre.

The principal was known for her devotion to strong academics for children from the earliest age. She was also known for coming to school wearing pajamas and carrying a pillow on Pajama Day and appropriately dressed on Inside Out and Backward Day.

“She brought an element of fun to school,” said Lisa Sheridan, a Sandy Hook parent and math teacher at Newtown High School.

Hochsprung arrived at school before anyone and left after everyone. She was also studying for her doctorate in education on weekends at the Esteves School of Education at Russell Sage College in Troy, N.Y.

And she had a family at home – her husband, George, who is a math teacher, two daughters and three stepdaughters. And her poodle, named Bella.

Hochsprung met her husband when they both were working at Rogers Park Middle School in Danbury. He was 23 years her senior, and she was assistant principal.

Their marriage, 10 years ago, was the second for both. Dawn had two daughters, and George had five daughters.

The couple liked to go hiking and sailing to Block Island. When winter weather caused the cancellation of school one day last year, the Hochsprungs strapped on snowshoes and tromped through the woods behind their townhouse.

“They made the best of the day,” said Natalie DeCastro, their neighbor for the past five years. “That’s the way they were together.”

The sailboat was sold as the Hochsprungs turned their attention to building a modular house in the Adirondacks, on a property once owned by Dawn’s grandparents. The plan was to build a mountain house large enough for their children and grandchildren. The couple made weekend trips to the Adirondacks to check on the progress of their dream house.

George the math teacher was ever-practical about the couple’s age difference.

“It was going to be Dawn’s house because I was going to die,” George told CNN. “And now it’s me. I don’t think I can do that.”

At her visitation Wednesday, the long wait to get inside the funeral home softened the mournful mood. Standing in the cold for two hours, friends, teachers and former students shared their “Mrs. Hochsprung stories” and “Dawn stories.” The crazy outfits she wore on theme days. Her love of a good suntan.

In words that had been expressed all week, by teacher after teacher and parent after parent, Hochsprung would be remembered most for what she did in the terrible minutes before 9:39 a.m.

“It’s like the captain of a ship,” said her neighbor Natalie DeCastro. “She went down with the ship.”

Schwartzman reported from Washington. Eli Saslow in Washington contributed to this report.

Paul Schwartzman specializes in political profiles and narratives about life, death and everything in between.
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