By Kim West
Limestone County Schools lowered flags to half-staff at the Central Office and put its schools on alert when news of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting broke Friday morning.
But Central Office officials, who issued a 60-second AlertNow phone message at 5:30 p.m. Monday to reassure anxious parents about school safety, wanted to do something more to show their support for Sandy Hook, which lost six staff members and 20 children during the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
By Monday afternoon, Limestone County Schools had installed a black trellis containing 26 stars — each one represents the 20 children and six staff members killed during the brief but deadly massacre in Newtown, Conn. — on the front lawn of the Central Office, which faces Jefferson Street near downtown Athens.
“The school system wanted to show support for Sandy Hook Elementary,” said Karen Tucker, director of public relations and information technology at the Central Office. “We really respect how they handled the shooting, and we wanted to show as fellow educators that we believe in and support their recovery.
“It really hits home to us because this can happen anywhere. We just wanted to show them we remember them and won’t forget.”
Each wooden star, provided at no cost by Ardmore Cabinets, is painted white and lettered with the first names and ages of the students — all 20 were 5 or 6 years old — and the first and last names and ages of the staff members, including principal Dawn Hochsprung, a 47-year-old mother of five who has been credited by witnesses with lunging at the shooter in an attempt to disarm him.
At the foreground of the memorial is a large white banner purchased from Classic Signs in Athens emblazoned with a memorial ribbon and green lettering that reads “Honoring Sandy Hook.”
“I contacted a cabinet shop in Ardmore on Sunday, and they had (the stars) cut by seven (Monday) morning,” Tucker said. “Classic Signs did the sign in an hour, and those two businesses put their normal business aside to get this together.”
Tucker said the county school system is determined to produce a positive result from the Sandy Hook tragedy and learn from the example set by the Newtown Public School system and the Sandy Hook staff.
“This hurt close to home, and we may never really know what went on that day,” she said. “But keeping students safe is at the top of every checklist. Before we discuss the educational plan, we decide what it will take to keep students safe. We want to make something good come out of this, whether it’s new policies or procedures (for school safety).
“Everything we’re hearing, the heroism of the employees, just the way the school officials have talked to the nation and the way they have handled themselves, it is something we want to emulate.”