Deadly school shootings like the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School don’t just create innocent victims.
Sometimes, they also create heroes.
School psychologist Mary Joy Greene Sherlach ’78, who was killed while racing toward the shooter soon after he broke into the school, epitomizes the selflessness that teachers and school staff often demonstrate during these unthinkable events. She will be among the teachers remembered tonight during a SUNY Cortland “teach-in” about the threat posed by guns in American schools.
The event will feature Distinguished Service Professor Robert Spitzer, an internationally respected gun-law expert, as well as elementary school administrators, police representatives, teachers and teaching students. It will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. today, Feb. 5, in Sperry Center, Room 205.
The panelists will discuss whether there is any kind of role for guns in schools, including armed police officers or teachers as some gun-rights advocacy groups have suggested. Michelle Kelly, associate professor in the School of Education’s Foundations and Social Advocacy Department, also will speak, sharing how teachers have made schools safe without guns, often by taking heroic action.
Sherlach, a former SUNY Cortland psychology major, will be a big part of Kelly’s presentation. When gunman Adam Lanza first shattered a school window to get inside her building, Sherlach and the school principal immediately raced toward him in an effort to protect the 700 children in the school.
They became the first two people killed.
Before Lanza finally turned one of his guns on himself, he managed to kill 27 people, including 20 first-grade children. His rampage was the second-deadliest school shooting in United States history. It led to the quick passage of new gun-control legislation in New York state and sparked national debates on the availability of firearms and the nation’s mental health system. .
“Mary’s actions were heroic, and exemplified courage, compassion and dedication,” SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum said. “We are proud to call her one of our own.”
The “teach-in” is part of a broader initiative taken by the College to help honor Sherlach’s memory.
SUNY Cortland will sponsor a scholarship in her name next fall, and has begun accepting donations. The fund will be used to offset tuition and other costs for a deserving student who is studying psychology. Sherlach graduated cum laude from Cortland with a psychology degree. She had been school psychologist at Sandy Hook since 1994.
The College also will make special recognition of Sherlach during Alumni Reunion 2013 this summer, when her graduating class of 1978 will be one of the featured reunions. Details of that recognition are not yet complete.
Tonight’s “teach-in” will bring together one of the nation’s top experts in firearm legislation with experienced educators. Spitzer’s expertise on gun issues has been in high demand since the shooting in Sandy Hook. During the last month, he has appeared on “ABC Nightly News” and shared his analysis of the situation on National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting System. Spitzer has been quoted in The Washington Post, the New York Daily News, Bloomberg News, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Hill and The Independent in Great Britain.
The event is being organized by Andrea Lachance, dean of the School of Education; Lorraine Berry, project director for NeoVox; Stephen Dangler, chief of the University Police Department, Kelly and Spitzer.