‘What would Dawn do?’


Daughters of Sandy Hook principal ensure mother’s legacy lives on

Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal killed in the Sandy Hook attacks, and her family are selling "WWDD" (What Would Dawn Do?) bracelets to raise money for a scholarship in her name, given to a graduating Naugatuck High School senior who wants to pursue a career in education. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — It was the night before the wake for Dawn (Lafferty) Hochsprung, the murdered principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, and her daughters were putting together collages to display the next day.

Erica Lafferty, 27, who lives on Highland Avenue, said she and her sister, 28-year-old Cristina Hassinger of Oakville, were trying to make sure they were equally represented in photos with their mother, because they knew Hochsprung would have approached the project that way.

“There was one picture that we were questioning, and my fiance said, ‘Well, what would Dawn do?'” Lafferty said. “And then my brother-in-law instantly said, ‘WWDD?'”

The exchange inspired an initiative that has gained supporters from all over the country.

The two, with the help of family and friends, are selling green rubber bracelets with “WWDD” printed on them in white, representing the elementary school’s colors. They can be bought for $4, and all proceeds will go to the Dawn Hochsprung Memorial Fund, which will pay for scholarships for Naugatuck High School graduates pursuing careers in education.

The scholarship fund was created in the days after Hochsprung was shot to death Dec. 14 while trying to keep gunman Adam Lanza from assaulting the school in Newtown, where he eventually killed 20 children and six educators, authorities said.

After the conversation in front of the collages, Lafferty and Hassinger ordered thousands of bracelets, figuring their sale would raise money for the scholarship fund.

That fund, Lafferty said, is what her mother would do.

“If the roles were reversed and something were to happen to me or my sister, my mom would have a goal,” Lafferty said. “She would have something that she would want done, and she would want our legacy to carry on.”

Hochsprung grew up in the borough and graduated from Naugatuck High School in 1983. After her death, Hassinger, her oldest daughter, quickly thought up the scholarship fund to give other borough teens the chance her mother had.

“She said that’s what Mom would do,” Lafferty said. “She wanted to send some kids to school, get them into education and create more people like her.”

The WWDD bracelets can be ordered at www.dawnhochsprungmemorialfund.org. The most recent orders have been stamped with butterflies identical to one on a pillow Hochsprung once gave Lafferty, printed with the words, “If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.”

The first bracelets were paid for by California Pizza Kitchen, where Lafferty’s cousin works. Almost 600 bracelets have been sold, and Lafferty has mailed them to buyers as far away as Ohio, Arkansas, Tennessee and Pittsburgh. Lafferty said only about 10 percent of the orders have come from people the family knows, and she has ordered 1,600 more bracelets to sell.

Lafferty said she does not know how much money has been raised so far for the scholarships, but the credit union has also been sending over envelopes full of sympathy cards.

Lafferty said she, Hassinger and Hochsprung’s surviving husband, George, are focusing on raising money for the scholarship funds and have yet to work out the application criteria with the school board. They partnered with the CT Triumph kickball league to hold a New Year’s Eve fundraiser at Dee-Man’s Bar & Grill Family Restaurant, and are holding a Cut-A-Thon on Monday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Paul Mitchell the School, 97 Washington Ave., North Haven. All proceeds from the $10 haircuts will go to the scholarship fund.

The fund’s website also contains instructions for contributing directly, beyond the $4 for a bracelet.

Lafferty and her family are working to decide which fundraisers will become annual affairs.

“We do want it to be an annual thing, and not something that is just going to be around for a couple years and people forget about, because I’m not going to let people forget about my mom,” Lafferty said.

Organizing the scholarship fund has kept Lafferty busy during her time off from her job at Post University, where she is an admissions counselor. Lafferty said she has lost 15 pounds in the last three weeks and has not yet decided when she will return to work.

“It’s just been like one big long day that won’t end,” Lafferty said. “It gives me something to focus on.”