Special Report: Sandy Hook teacher speaks about tragedy, local company works to prevent future tragedies

Out of tragedy comes a message of hope from Sandy Hook survivor

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A little more than three years ago, the nation was struck by tragedy as we witnessed the horrific school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The tragedy inspired dozens of changes to security precautions at schools across the country. It also led to a new business in Adams, Mass. that creates a unique glass to keep attackers out.

The idea for “school guard glass” came the day of the Sandy Hook School shooting in December 2012. The first police officer was on scene about three minutes after the 911 call, which gave a first grade teacher just enough time to hide her class and survive.

NEWS10 ABC sat down with that teacher. Kaitlin Roig-Debellis spoke about that tragic day, and her strong message to move forward. rach 1

“My students and I were just in our morning meeting, which is a very calm, quiet piece of our day, when very loud, very rapid gunfire began over and over and over,” she recalled.

It was the morning of December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Former first grade teacher, Roig-Debellis, hid her 15 students as a shooter reloaded in the adjoining classroom.

“I said, ‘We need to get into our bathroom now,'” she said. “I picked some of my students up, put them behind the toilet where the flusher is, stood two of my little boys on top of the toilet, put my tiniest student on top of the toilet paper dispenser, holding her with my hand. I think back on it now and it seemed so impossible. But in that moment, the impossible needed to become possible because that was our only chance.”

Roig-Debellis revealed the trauma of her darkest hour in her book “Choosing Hope.” It’s a story of surmounting tragedy. She described what it was like inside the bathroom while knowing what was going on.

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“My students were in the middle of Hell, and what they were hearing was so loud and so scary that they understood that when I said, ‘Be quiet,’ they understood that silence meant we might stay safe,” she said.

The tragedy sent schools scrambling for security upgrades, but even the locks and cameras at Sandy Hook couldn’t keep the shooter out.

“I am alive because I had the time to hide while he shot his way in,” Roig-Debellis said.

Now giving people time to stay alive is the mission at School Guard Glass. Chris Kapiloff works in the glass-installation business in Adams, Mass. The day of the Sandy Hook shooting, he came up with the idea for School Guard Glass.

“The purpose of our glass is to keep somebody out of a building even if they come prepared to enter it with an assault rifle or a sledge hammer,” he said.

school guard glass

His neighbor, co-president Foster Goodrich, demonstrated how their product looks and feels just like regular glass. But it contains a laminate in the center, which makes it nearly unbreakable.

“Throw bricks at it, kick it, hammer, two-by-four, bat, three-pound mallet, and then eventually to a sledge,” Goodrich said.

And schools can afford it.

The glass is five times cheaper than bulletproof products. Safe Guard Glass is $1,300 per door, and bulletproof glass is $6,500 per door. It’s the cheapest door on the market, so the makers were able to strengthen it and make it into a cohesive product that prevents forced entry.

As a result, the glass allows teachers and students to engage in their school’s safety protocols while also giving time for first responders to arrive. Safe Guard Glass is going into the new Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Weeks after the tragedy, Roig-Debellis grappled to find answers that would never come.

“Why did this happen? Why our school? Why innocent lives?” she wondered. “I decided I needed to shift my energy, which lead me to create Classes 4 Classes.”

Classes 4 Classes is a non-profit organization that gives students an opportunity to pay it forward to classrooms across the country.

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“Everyone comes up against stuff in their lives that seem insurmountable, and they absolutely do not have to be,” Roig-Debellis said. “And so, if I can share that with one person by having them read “Choosing Hope,” then that’s exactly why I wrote it. There is light after darkness.”

Classes 4 Classes is Roig-Debellis’s proof. The program matches classes in need with classes that have resources to spare. Then that classroom passes its resources on to another school. And the cycle continues.

“It gives them real ownership in making a difference in someone else’s life,” Roig-Debellis said.

Any class can register on classes4classes.org. If a class is on the receiving end, it must pay it forward to another class, so it acts as a domino effect.

School Guard Glass is being installed in at least eight schools across the country, but aside from Sandy Hook, it’ll never be known which schools have it because of safety reasons.

Kapiloff said he doesn’t want anyone to know it’s there, unless it’s used to protect them.

 

 

“I Need to Start Writing Things Down” by Chris Zabriskie was used as music in this story.

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