Sandy Hook Elementary teacher shares story of tragedy and hope in Edmonton – Edmonton
EDMONTON – When Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis went to work on December 14, 2012 her life changed forever.
“It is always there,” she said. “It is a constant. Every single day. All day long.”
Roig-DeBellis is a Grade 1 teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. She is credited with saving her students from a gunman who went on to kill 26 people at the school.
The young teacher was in Edmonton, sharing her story of tragedy and hope with hundreds of local teachers during a convention Friday.
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When Roig-DeBellis went to work that Friday morning, it was like any other day. She gathered her students for their usual morning meeting at 9:30 a.m.
“In the midst of that meeting, loud, rapid fire, gunfire began,” she vividly explained. “What I was hearing was a semi-automatic weapon shattering large glass panes, bringing terror, sadness and immeasurable loss.”
Her classroom being the first one in the school, Roig-DeBellis knew she had to act quickly. She turned off the lights and closed the door, but says her keys were too far away to lock it.
“The only option was to hide.”
Roig-DeBellis shuffled her students into the classroom’s small bathroom and told them to be absolutely quiet.
“I told them, ‘We’re going to wait right here because there are bad guys out there right now and we are going to wait for the good guys to come and get us out.’”
She and her students quietly waited in that room until help arrived, for what she says was the longest 45 minutes of her life.
“Pure evil and murder reigned,” Roig-DeBellis recalled.
“Initially it was just ‘I can’t believe this is happening here.’ You hear about this happening other places. You never think that your idyllic, pleasantville school — where you’re just so happy everyday — that something like that would ever happen.”
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But it did happen, and Roig-DeBellis and her students survived. She says that morning is now with her every single day of her life.
“I would never complain because I’m standing here. And if that’s the burden that I bear — I don’t know how you could ever come through something like that unscathed or without it constantly on your mind.”
Following the tragedy, support came pouring into Newtown from across the world. Now, Roig-DeBellis uses that generosity to teach her students that there’s always a need to help others.
And she says it’s for that reason why she now takes her story across the continent.
“If I weren’t here, I would want someone to move forward positively and to try to make an impact that didn’t let that day define them.”
The crowd in Edmonton Friday morning listened intently, inspired by Roig-DeBellis’ words and strength.
“I can’t imagine being in that situation,” said Leizan Knecht, who teaches Grades 5 and 6 with Edmonton Public Schools.
Knecht says Roig-DeBellis’ story reminded her that you always have to have hope.
“Hope that things will always get better,” she said. “You keep going, you find your purpose and you do whatever you can to help others find their purpose.”
“She had a really clear message, that you can make a difference,” added Susan Makale, principal of St. Richard School.
“We never want to have to experience the kind of tragedy that she did. And I don’t think that we need to wait for tragedy to begin to inspire our children. We can seize the ordinary moments of the day to help them find hope.”
Which is exactly the message Roig-DeBellis had hoped to inspire.
“The way you view the world and your outlook, that’s what truly comes to define who you are,” she said. “Terrible things happen to all of us and my message is really that you can choose to have hope, even in the hardest times of your life. That’s always a choice.”
With files from Fletcher Kent, Global News.
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