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Friend: Sandy Hook principal was a 'hero' who 'put her children first'

Friends of slain Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung say they are not surprised that her first instinct was to run toward danger when gunfire erupted at the Connecticut school on Friday.

Hochsprung, 47, was one of six adults at the school who lost their lives along with 20 children in the shooting rampage by alleged gunman Adam Lanza, 20, in Newtown, Conn. A mother and stepmother to five girls, Hochsprung reportedly ran toward the classroom when she heard the shots. She is remembered as an energetic, engaged and dedicated administrator who had put kids first since taking over as principal in 2010.

Mark Boughton, the mayor of nearby Danbury, Conn., and Gerald Stomski, the first selectman in nearby Woodbury, Conn., both knew her well and shared their thoughts with Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Saturday.

Story: Parents asked about kids’ last moments, pastor says

“When Dawn was the principal in our school system, we talked about this exact type of incident,’’ Stomski said. “She certainly was inspiring and put her children first, and it was no surprise to me that she came to them. She’s actually a hero today.’’

“As a teacher I’ll tell you, our number one rule is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our children, and that was always at the forefront of Dawn’s mind in everything she did – health, safety and general welfare to make sure those kids were safe,’’ Boughton said.

Video: Columbine survivor: Hearts ‘ripped open’ again

Hochsprung had focused on implementing more protections to keep the children safe in the wake of other school shootings across the country.

“We rehearsed this and we talked about this after the Columbine incident, and ironically enough, one of the things we talked about is the reasons why people do that,’’ Stomski said. “I think if she was here today, one of the things that she would say is that to wait to find out somebody was troubled is too late. If she was here to speak, she would say that we as individuals need to reach out as our responsibility and try to reach out to these troubled people ahead of time.’’

Hochsprung's Twitter page was filled with photos of winter concerts and book drives at the school and tweets about her pride in Sandy Hook Elementary and its students like this one, from back in August. 

She was "a ball of energy, a ball of fire," said Boughton.

“How do you recover from something as horrible as this?” Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, told NBC News. “How do you help a child have to walk into the front door of that school the next day that they have class and not see their principal?”

Boughton requested counseling for the emergency medical technicians who were first on the scene. Boughton was initially briefed that the local hospital should prepare for mass casualties, but soon was made aware of the grim reality.

Video: Official: Adam Lanza, 20, shattered glass to enter school

“It was a stunning, shocking moment,’’ Boughton said. “They called back a little while later and said, ‘We’re only going to get three people.’ I said, ‘But I thought you had a mass casualty event?’ And she said, ‘You’re not listening to me. We’re only going to get three people,’ and from that inference I understood this was a horrific event that occurred here in Newtown.’’

“They said it was a horrific scene,’’ Stomski said. “Certainly the administrators as this unfolded took the necessary steps that they trained for. They did everything right – unfortunately a lot went wrong that day.

“I think we definitely will heal,’’ he said. “I think we are going to go through the mourning and the shock first, but I think because we are a very tight-knit community, we share common boundaries, and our community shares a great deal. Our relatives all live together here, and we will survive this.’’