It’s been nearly a year since the devastating events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Many may even remember where they were, or what they were doing, when they first heard the news: that a lone gunman had killed dozens of children and adults at an elementary school. That night, teachers cried their relief that it hadn’t been their school or their kids; parents hugged their children tighter and counted their blessings twice; and everyone mourned for the nation’s tremendous loss.
Eleven months ago, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis was none of the above; she hadn’t just heard about what happened—she had been there. A first grade teacher at Sandy Hook, Kaitlin saved the lives of her fifteen students by thinking on her feet, staying calm, and showing incredible compassion.
On Monday, November 11th, 2013, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis was honored as one of Glamour’s Women of the Year. Arianna Huffington, legendary media mogul, presented the award and related Kaitlin’s story:
“When the shooting began, Kaitlin rushed her fifteen students into a tiny, dark bathroom, barricaded the door, and in the middle of complete chaos, panic, darkness and real danger, made them feel safe and loved.”
She told Glamour that her students “knew something bad was happening. But I had to keep them calm. If one of them started to cry, we all would have cried.” She kept them calm and positive by having everyone share whispered wishes, like getting to hug their parents or celebrating Christmas in a few days’ time.
And thanks to Roig-DeBellis, many of those kids got their wishes. Fifteen innocent lives were spared that day because she kept them safe, acting as their protector-in-chief and guiding light.
“She not only saved their lives, but she sent an inspiring message to the rest of us about the power of love to overcome hatred and fear,” said Huffington.
Since last year’s devastating events, Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis has kept the inspiration going; she launched a nonprofit organization called Classes 4 Classes, which recognizes the need to teach children that we are all connected, and that we each have “the power to take action and create positive change.” The group allows classes to sponsor field trips, school supplies, and other educational gifts for other classrooms in need.
“[W]hen we teach kindness, compassion, love and empathy there is no room for hate,” Roig-DeBellis writes. And she is absolutely right.
Cover Photo: Dave Barger / Flickr CC