The following is an excerpt from Kaitlin Roig’s book, Choosing Hope,
describing the moment Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School on
December 14, 2012. She was the first grade teacher in classroom 12, the
one adjacent to Victoria Soto’s:
“First comes the initial blast of gunfire, then the sounds of shattering glass. The hair on my arms stands up. I know right away what I am hearing. Columbine is happening in the place we called Pleasantville. How can it be? Someone with a weapon is shooting their way into our perfect school. My classroom is the first one in the building. We are in grave danger, I think, sitting targets. I jump up, run to the door, pull it closed, and switch off the lights. Thank God for the piece of dark blue construction paper I taped to the door window months ago in preparation for a lockdown drill and forgot to take down. I can’t lock the door. My keys are clear across the room, on top of my desk, and there’s no time to fetch them. For what? A locked door is no match for a magazine of bullets. If we’re going to live, we have to find a hiding place. Fast. I look around the classroom. My students don’t seem to understand what is happening. One, the little girl I call our fashionista, because she wears things like leopard prints and leggings, stands there smiling. I can’t tell if she is somehow oblivious to the sounds or scared frozen. The windows don’t open wide enough for a first-grader to climb through, and who knows what or who is waiting outside? Evil is coming for us and there’s nowhere to go.
Where can we hide? Where can we hide? There’s only one place. The bathroom - a tiny, tiny first grade-sized lavatory with only a toilet and a toilet-paper dispenser inside. Its dimensions are about the size of two first-grade desks pushed together. Maybe three feet by four feet. There is so little space that the sink is on the outside, in the classroom. I have never even been inside of the bathroom before. An adult wouldn’t fit comfortably. How in God’s name will I get sixteen of us in there? It is our only chance. The impossible will have to become possible.
Everything is happening so quickly. We are under siege. I turn to my students, who look up at me with pleading eyes. ‘Into the bathroom! Now!’ I say.
At first they protest. ‘In there?’ ‘How?’ ‘Why?’ ‘What do you mean, Miss Roig?’
‘Bathroom! Now!’ I say, repeating myself. They understand that the teacher means business. I rush them toward the back of the classroom. Shots are being fired outside our classroom door. There’s no time. ‘Hurry!’ I say, pushing them into the tiny space with the toilet in the center. ‘Hurry!’ But I know that no matter how quickly my students respond, it will still take two or three minutes to get everyone inside, minutes I feel sure we don’t have.
We all push into the bathroom, and when there isn’t a millimeter of space left, I begin lifting my students and piling them inside. I place one student, then two, then three on top of the toilet and hoist up my littlest girl and sit her on the toilet-paper dispenser. We are all crushed together with not even enough room left to take a deep breath. I reach out to pull the door closed, but the door isn’t there. Oh my God. In my rush to try to save us, I didn’t even notice. The door opens into the bathroom. We are blocking it with our bodies. I feel myself beginning to panic. Here we are, stuffed into a room, with a madman bearing down on us, and the door that is supposed to hide us is obstructed by us and can’t close.
My heart pounds against my chest, but I cannot afford to lose my composure, not if we are to have a chance of getting out of this alive. First-graders model their teacher’s behavior. If I panic, they’ll all panic, and we’ll be dead. One by one, I pick up the students who are blocking the door and move each one behind it until I am finally able to push it closed. But just before I do, I reach outside for a large storage cabinet on wheels that is nearby and pull it as close as I can to the front of the bathroom door, hoping that maybe it will conceal the door. ‘Now,’ I say, ‘We have to be absolutely quiet. We can’t say a word.’ I can’t help but wonder if, by trapping us in the bathroom, I have just sentenced us to certain death. What if the shooter realizes that the storage cabinet is a ruse and shoots right through it?
Someone shouts, ‘Shooter! Stay put!’ Is that our principal? The school nurse? Another teacher? The sounds are too muffled to tell. Then, ear-splitting, rapid-fire shots, like a machine gun - di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di-di - over and over and over. We hear pleading. My students stay perfectly quiet. First-graders are black -and white. They understand that someone very bad is searching for us and in order for us not to be discovered they stay perfectly quiet. In our silence, we hear voices, although whose is unclear. They are muffed voices. People are pleading for their lives. ‘No!’ Please, no! Please! No!’ If my students are to keep even relatively calm, they must not know that my insides are shaking and I’m sure we are all about to die. It’s a very difficult thing, putting on a cool front in the midst of what I know is life and death. With the inescapable sounds of carnage happening all around us, my little ones are feeling desperate. ‘What is happening?’ one of them whispers. My fashionista begins to cry. I cup her face in my hands and look into her teary eyes. ‘We’re going to be okay,’ I promise. I never make promises I can’t keep, especially not to children, but this is a matter of life and death. The boy who straddles the top of the toilet is shaking so hard that he accidentally flushes. Once, then again. We all hold our breath. Shhhhhhhhhh!!!!! Did the shooter hear? I look at the boy and his face says it all. I’m scared and I’m sorry and I don’t know what to do. ‘Miss Roig, I don’t want to die today,’ one of my students whispers. ‘I just want my mom,’ another one says, fighting tears. ‘I don’t want to die before Christmas,’ says my student who has been talking about the holiday for months. We are squeezed together like fingers in a tight fist. My kids want out of this sweltering, sealed-up box we’re in. ‘I’ll lead the way!’ one of the boys whispers. ‘I know karate,’ says another boy. Hadn’t it been only moments ago that he told us the story of finding a dollar under his pillow for his two front teeth? ‘No,’ I say gently. ‘There are bad guys out there and we need to wait for the good guys to come.’ I can’t bear to think that their last moments will be spent this way: in fear. I must reassure them, even though I don’t believe my own words. ‘It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay,’ I say. Then, because I believe that death is imminent and I want to do whatever I can to make them feel safe, I tell them how much they have meant to me. ‘I need you to know that I love you all very much,’ I say. In comforting them, I have also brought comfort to myself. ‘Anyone who believes in the power of prayer needs to pray right now,’ I say, ‘and anyone who does not needs to think really happy thoughts.’ I put my hands together and start to pray. The kids are too crammed together to move their arms, but most of them close their eyes and I assume they are following my instruction. The shooting continues. Now I am prepared to die.”